Q: A co-worker, through text messages, stated my belief as a Jehovah's Witness was "ridiculous" what should I do?
HR was notified and investigation is being conducted, however, the person involved is in a "senior" position. Kind of like supervisory and someone who calls other's religious beliefs "ridiculous" should not be in such a position. What should I do? This company is also a local government establishment. A County establishment.
I am sorry this has happened to you. Let me give you some insight into the concept of religious harassment.
Actionable religious harassment happens in the workplace when you are subjected to unwelcomed comments or conduct related to your religion that are so severe or pervasive so as to modify the workplace rendering it hostile toward you as a member of your religion.
The key component of that claim in your situation is whether you have experienced severe or pervasive conduct or comments. Very rarely will one statement be sufficient to satisfy the requirement of severe or pervasive. Calling your religion undoubtedly qualifies as an unwelcomed comment about your religion. Another aspect that would need to be explored if the one comments has rendered the workplace hostile toward you as a member of the religion. While the fact the person saying this is a supervisor can create a feeling of more hostility than if it was a single statement made by a co-worker, it is not definitely established because of that.
Severe connotes a very serious situation. For instance, in the sexual harassment arena, sexual touching might be considered severe, while a single offensive sexually charged statement would not.
Pervasive suggests that the comments pervade the workplace, i.e., they happen with such regularity that one could conclude that it happens a lot.
The concepts of severe and pervasive work on a sliding scale, which means something could be very pervasive but not very serious, and vice versa.
It would likely be determined that the one time comment by this supervisor will not be considered severe pervasive enough to constitute actionable harassment.
That said, when you report any comments to the employer that constitute any form of religious harassment, the employer is then required to take all reasonable measures to prevent any future harassment of that sort. Therefore the employer cannot ignore you reporting. While it does not have to terminate the offending supervisor, it does have to take whatever reasonable measures it believe are necessary to protect you against the offensive comments.
Let the investigation play itself out. If, after the investigation concludes, there are no further comments, then the employer has done what it is required to do. If however you face more of the same, or if you face any kind of provable retaliation by the supervisor or the company because of your report, it would be wise at that point to locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Most employment attorneys who practice this area of law offer a free or low cost consultation in the beginning and then, if the matter has merit and value, will usually agree to work on a contingency basis, meaning you can hire an attorney without paying any money until the matter results in a positive outcome for you. Many advance all the costs of the litigation as well. Do not let fear of fees and costs keep you from finding a good attorney.
Good luck to you.
A: The most important question here is was this an isolated incident, or this one part of a larger pattern? While this is not the exemplary behavior we’d expect of a person in a supervisory role, if it’s an isolated comment, it’s not necessarily illegal. To be considered religious discrimination in the workplace, the treatment would generally need to be repeated or severe. Reach out to an experienced religious discrimination attorney if this treatment continues or gets worse.
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