AbleToTrain by Willing & Able

On their private desk, an employee may keep a Bible or Koran and read it during breaks.

An agency may prohibit all posters or posters of a certain size from being displayed in private work areas, or may require posters to be displayed facing the employee and not on shared walls.



Employees are permitted to discuss their religious beliefs with one another in informal settings such as cafeterias and hallways, subject to the same rules of order that apply to other employee expression.

Are permitted to display religious messages on clothing in the same way that other comparable messages are permitted.

May wear religious medallions over their clothing or in other prominent locations. Generally, this will have no effect on workplace efficiency and thus is protected.

During a coffee break, one employee initiates a polite discussion with another about why his faith should be accepted. The other employee expresses disagreement with the first employee’s religious injunctions but does not request that the conversation be halted. Agencies should refrain from restricting or interfering with such speech in these circumstances.

One employee invites another to worship services at her church, despite the fact that she is aware that the invitee is a devout follower of another faith. The invitee is taken aback and requests that the invitation be withdrawn. While the original invitation is protected, the employee should abide by the request to refrain from issuing additional invitations.

A supervisor who is an atheist has stated that anyone who regularly attends church should not be trusted with the public good. Over time, the supervisory consistently awards merit increases to employees who do not regularly attend church, but not to employees of equal merit who do. This type of behavior is likely to be interpreted as coercive and should be prohibited.

During a heated lunch table discussion about abortion, a supervisor shares with those he supervises his conviction that God requires complete respect for unborn life and that it is appropriate for all persons to pray for the unborn. Another supervisor believes abortion should remain legal because God teaches women must exercise control over their own bodies.

Without additional information, neither of these statements coerces employees into religious conformity or behavior. Thus, unless supervisors take additional steps to coerce agreement with their viewpoint or act in ways that could reasonably be construed as coercive, their expressions are protected in the Federal workplace in the same manner and to the same extent as other constitutionally protected speech.


Workplace Hostility and Harassment

An employee repeatedly makes disparaging remarks about the faith or lack of faith of other employees with whom she is assigned to work. This is typically referred to as religious harassment.

A group of employees subject another employee to a barrage of comments about his sex life, knowing full well that the targeted employee will be bothered and offended by such comments due to his religious beliefs.

A group of employees who share a common religious belief decides to work exclusively with others who share their views. They engage in a pattern of verbal attacks on coworkers who disagree with them, referring to them as heathens, sinners, and the like. This type of behavior should not be tolerated.

Two employees engage in an acrimonious verbal altercation. In the heat of the moment, one makes a disparaging remark about the religion of the other. When tempers have subsided, nothing further is said. Unless the insulted employee’s employment conditions are altered or an abusive work environment is created, this is not statutory religious harassment.

Employees may wear religious jewelry and medallions over their clothing or in a visible manner. Others display buttons bearing a broad religious or anti-religious message. Typically, these expressions are personal in nature and do not constitute religious harassment in and of themselves.

A Federal employee’s private work area includes a Bible or Koran, which she reads during breaks. Another employee’s private work area features a photograph of Jesus and the text of the Lord’s Prayer. Without more, this conduct does not constitute religious harassment and does not create an unlawful hostile work environment for employees who do not share those religious views, even if they are upset or offended by the conduct.

During lunch, certain employees gather for prayer and Bible study on their own time in an empty conference room that is generally available to employees on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if other employees with differing views on how to pray may feel excluded or request that the group be disbanded, such a gathering does not constitute religious harassment.


Religious Exercises Are Tolerable

The agency’s work schedules must be adjusted to accommodate an employee’s religious observance. For instance, Sabbath or religious holiday observance, if an adequate substitute is available or if the employee’s absence would not impose an undue burden on the agency in any other way.

An employee must be permitted to wear religious garb, such as a crucifix, a yarmulke, or a head scarf or hijab, during the workday if wearing such garb is a necessary part of the employee’s religious practice or expression, as long as such garb does not impair the workplace’s functioning unduly.

An employee should be excused from a particular assignment if performing that assignment would conflict with the employee’s religious beliefs and reassigning the employee would not cause the agency undue hardship.

A corrections officer whose religion requires him or her to wear long hair should be granted an exemption from a generally applicable hair-length policy, unless denying the exemption is the least restrictive way to protect safety, security, discipline, or other compelling interests.

A Jehovah’s Witness who is applying for employment with a government agency should not be compelled, contrary to her religious beliefs, to take a loyalty oath in an objectionable form.


Religion Establishment

Each week, at the conclusion of the staff meeting and before anyone leaves the room, an employee leads a prayer in which nearly everyone participates. Weekly meetings are mandatory for all employees. Neither the supervisor nor the subordinate expressly acknowledges the prayer. This is not permitted unless and until a reasonable observer concludes that the prayer was not officially endorsed.