Employers are increasingly making use of training programs designed to improve employee motivation, cooperation, or productivity through the use of various so-called "new age" techniques.
The Commission defines religious practices to include moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right or wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.
Under §701(j) of Title VII an employer must provide reasonable accommodation for an employee's or prospective employee's religious needs unless to do so would create an undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.
The need for accommodation most frequently arises where an individual's religious belief, observances, or practices conflict with a specific task or requirement of the employee's job. For example, an employee may object to participating in a training exercise involving self-hypnosis because his religion teaches that a person should always be in control of his/her thoughts in order to make correct moral choices. The employer's duty to accommodate will usually entail making a special exception from or adjustment to the particular training requirement so that the employee is able to comply with the dictates of his/her religious beliefs.
Where an employee notifies an employer that his/her religious beliefs conflict with a particular training technique or method used in a "new age" training program, an employer may accommodate the employee's belief by substituting an alternative technique or method not offensive to the employee's belief or by excusing the employee from that particular part on the training program. The employer may have to excuse the employee from the entire program where the employee contends that the program is based on a concept contrary to his/her beliefs, unless the employer can show undue hardship.
Because an employer may not impose any religious requirements on the terms or conditions of employment, an employer who in any way penalizes an employee who has been excused from participating in a training program because of religious conflicts discriminates on the basis on religion. Moreover, an employer may be required to provide alternative training as part of reasonably accommodating the employee's religious beliefs unless it can show undue hardship. Exempting an employee from a training program without providing alternative training may disadvantage the employee with respect to his/her employment opportunities.
Example: R requires its employees, as part of a training program, to participate in a form of meditation that involves emptying one's mind of all thoughts by repeating a meaningless word. CP objects to participating in this exercise because it conflicts with his religious belief that a person should always keep his mind open to "divine inspiration." R must accommodate CP's religious belief by excusing him from this exercise even though R, the sponsor of the training program, and other employees believe that this form of meditation does not conflict with any religious beliefs.
The employer may also be liable where the training program is explicitly based upon religious beliefs.
In this situation, an employer discriminates not only against employees and potential employees whose individual religious beliefs conflict with the training program but also against employees and potential employees who choose not to have religious beliefs.
Example: R requires its employees, as part of a training program, to participate in a form of meditation that involves emptying one's mind of all thoughts by repeating a meaningless word. The employees are taught that this meditation will bring them into contact with the "ultimate reality of the universe" which empowers them to reach the "supreme authentication" of their "True Self" and to become one with "All That That Is." R must accommodate the religious beliefs of its employees by excusing from this exercise, not only those employees who object because this conflicts with their religious beliefs, but also employees who object because they have chosen not to have religious beliefs. In addition, R's policy of requiring employees to attend a religiously oriented program discriminates on its face against all employees and potential employees on the basis of religion.
The issue of "new age" training programs is Non-CDP. Charges involving this issue should be sent to Headquarters until further notice. Contact Coordination and Guidance Services at FTS 634-6423 for instructions.
Approved: Clarence Thomas