For The Love Of G-D, Don’t Say You Love Me

We have come to this in our workplaces, in the lyrics of Annie Lennox:  “No more ‘I love you’s.”   Please enjoy today’s guest post from one of your employees:

I have difficulty getting close to people. I have trouble expressing my true feelings. Some might even call me a closed book.  When the right relationship starts to develop, I look the other way. I run. I know you know how I feel about you, but my feelings stay in my own heart and mind. I’m so happy the EEOC has confirmed that I don’t have to tell my co-workers that I love them, whether in person or on any of my social media pages.

I don’t know a lot about all this legal mumbo jumbo, and social media and employment law stuff. I can get that from this awesome blog. But it seems that the government has confirmed that I can be a ranting madman in the workplace, but can’t be required to express my love for anyone. Thus, for example, the NLRB has said that my job may be protected if I call my own boss an “as*hole,” or a “scumbag”, or “fu*king mother fu*ker.” But in this new case I found in New York federal court, called EEOC v. United Health Programs of America, Inc. and Cost Containment Group, Inc.I cannot be forced to say “I love you.”

Now, I won’t get too excited, because the lawsuit just started.  It is only a complaint filed by the EEOC, and no decision or rulings have been made yet.  In that case, the EEOC believes that the defendants discriminated against 3 individuals (and, presumably, the rest of the workforce) based on religion.  Not the employee’s religion, but the company’s “Harnessing Happiness” belief system, also commonly referred to as “Onionhead” religious practices, according to the complaint.  That system, in addition to having various spiritual and environmental elements, required employees to say “I love you” to management and colleagues.  Stop right there.   It’s one thing for my co-workers and I to run around calling our bosses stupid fu*king morons, but expressing thanks and saying “I love you” has absolutely no place in my workplace!!

The allegedly aggrieved individuals in that case did not want to participate in the company’s practices.  As the EEOC alleged in the complaint:

“Defendants failed to accommodate [plaintiffs] and other aggrieved individuals’ own religious beliefs or lack thereof.  Defendants compelled employees to take part in Onionhead-related religious activities on a routine basis to maintain their employment with Defendants. [Plaintiffs] and other aggrieved individuals made known their opposition to Onionhead related religious practices to Defendants and faced termination for this reason.”

Thank you NLRB, and EEOC.   Now please let me go back to work in anger.

Employer Take Away:   What should you as an employer take away from this development?

Thanks to your employee for an enlightening guest blog post.  As a company, I think there are 3 primary takeaways from this new lawsuit:

1.         Religion, religious expression, and religious accommodation in the workplace continue to be hot-button, emotion-provoking issues that mirror the larger debate over the place that religion has in our country. The EEOC is, and will likely continue to be, focused on religious discrimination and accommodation, so your company better focus on the legal obligations under federal, state, and local law regarding what you can and cannot do in the area of religion in the workplace.

2.         Social media makes it easy for individuals to find others and engage in collective expression with others who share similarly-held sincere religious beliefs. Do not simply dismiss outright religious expression, and expressed need for religious accommodation, but rather analyze your particular situation to determine what you need to do, if anything, in response.

3.         As Annie Lennox also sang, “put a little love in your heart.”  Just not in your policies.

About The Author

Michael C. Schmidt is the vice chair of the firm’s Labor & Employment Department, and the office managing partner, vice chair, of the New York Midtown office, where he is resident. For more than two decades, Mike has concentrated his practice on representing companies and management in all facets of employment law, such as: (i) defense in litigation involving wage and hour (overtime and unpaid compensation), discrimination, harassment, retaliation and whistle-blowing, non-competes and trade secrets, and disability and other leave-related issues; (ii) day-to-day counseling and in-house training on issues from hiring to firing, and other questions unique to his client’s industries and business; and (iii) drafting and reviewing employment agreements, termination and severance agreements, confidentiality and non-competes, and employment policies and manuals.

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About Social Media Employment Law Blog
Social Media Employment Law Blog is devoted to the interplay between social media and employment law, an extremely topical and significant area of law for employers in this new technology era. Published and edited by Michael Schmidt, Vice Chair of the Labor & Employment Department, Mike concentrates in representing management in all facets of employment law and has been frequently quoted on employment law topics, and is regularly interviewed by trade publications and national journals for his opinions on legal trends.
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