employer is offering a paid day off to attend a religious service

A reader writes:

A husband of a friend of mine received this email from his workplace:

“You have the opportunity to attend a Retreat at ____ Church, on Friday from 9 am-4 pm. It will be a day guided by Father ____, on finding Peace and God with your fellow colleagues in the workplace. Continental breakfast and lunch will be served. If you would like to attend, this will be a paid day. If you choose not to attend, we will try to accommodate you by opening the corporate office. (This will be based on attendance) Please respond by email to Mary and myself if you will be attending or not. Response needed, no later than 3 pm Monday.

The warehouse will be CLOSED on Friday, regardless of attendance. Warehouse will be open until 7 pm, on Thursday and reopen on Saturday from 9 am – 1 pm.”

My friend’s husband doesn’t want to go, despite being nominally religious. He normally works in the warehouse on Friday, so he can’t go in. If he works the extra hour on Thursday and from 9-1 on Saturday, he will be working an hour less than he normally would if he was in the warehouse on Friday. Is this legal? We are all split on this (but all agree it’s completely absurd). The company has 40 employees, and is located in Michigan.

Agggh. Hello, religion inappropriately injected into the workplace.

It sounds like it raises some legal issues to me (you’re being denied hours for not participating in a religious service), but I wanted an actual lawyer’s take, so I checked with Eric Stevens of Littler Mendelson. Here’s what he said:

“Employers with 15 or more employees are subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination and harassment based on religion. In and of itself, an employer communicating about a religious event, or espousing personal religious beliefs is not, per se, illegal. However, employers must be conscious of the fact that when company owners or supervisors show preference to a religious belief, there is an implicit threat from the authority that comes from their position, even if that threat is not intended. In the example posed, the employer has likely crossed the line from allowing the respectful expression and practice of religion to unwelcome proselytizing, which must be avoided in the workplace.

The employer is providing both a financial incentive (in the form of a paid day off) to employees to attend and a financial penalty (in the form of reduced and altered paid work hours) to employees who choose not to attend. By doing so, the employer is affecting the terms and conditions of employment based on the employees’ willingness to engage in the employer’s preferred religious practice. To the extent employees refuse to participate and suffer negative consequences sufficient to constitute an adverse action, the employer will be deemed to have engaged in discrimination because of religion in violation of Title VII. Additionally, by requiring employees to identify themselves as either participating or not participating, the employer could be contributing to a hostile work environment on the basis of religion. While this one event alone would not likely be actionable as creating a hostile environment, continuing such a practice could likely result in a hostile environment claim.

Claims of religious discrimination are investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, in this context, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.”

If your friend’s husband is up for it, he could follow my basic advice for asserting your legal rights at work and start from the assumption that the employer doesn’t realize that there’s a legal problem, and that he is courteously bringing it to their attention. This stance will usually get you a better outcome because it creates the chance to handle it in a non-adversarial way . In this case, I’d say something like this: “I’m concerned that we’re on shaky legal ground in providing a paid day off to employees who attend a religious service and not to others, and in reducing the paid work hours for the week for those who prefer not to attend. I don’t want us to get in trouble. Would it be possible to ensure that those who choose not to attend receive their normal pay for the week?”

And really, employers — your captive audience of employees who depend on you for their livelihood is not an appropriate target for religious proselytizing.

{ 183 comments… read them below }

  1. Alter_ego*

    I know this pisses all sorts of people off, but as an atheist, the casual assumption that I must have a religion makes me feel so invisible. Even if my boss reacted well to my pushback on this, I think I’d be looking for another job, unless every other aspect of the workplace was really exceptional.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      I’m in agreement with this as well. I wasn’t brought up in any religion and am not religious now I’m an adult.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      No kidding. I feel so lucky to work with may other non-religious people.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Ha! Point taken. I’m in the south, so this is a pretty weird environment.

        2. ginger ale for all*

          I only want to know if a person’s religious choice affects what kind of food that would be appropriate at an office party. I had a co-worker bring a bucket of fried chicken to a vegan co-workers office birthday party – awkward for everyone. So if someone is Jewish, I know not to bring mini bacon cheeseburger sliders.

          1. Midge*

            The fact that someone is Jewish doesn’t automatically mean that they keep Kosher, just like not everyone from any given religion follows that religion’s restrictions or requirements on dress, diet, frequency of prayer, etc. It’s always best to ask! I’m Jewish and personally I’d love some bacon cheeseburger sliders. :)

          2. James M*

            I almost ran afoul the food thing myself. I made a baklava and gave a few pieces to my boss for the holidays. Fortunately, I included the ingredients list (not the calorie count… not enough room for all those digits) and it was all OK. The only animal-source ingredients in my baklava are butter and honey.

        3. Green*

          I am humanist and am cool if someone mentions it off-handedly or in talking about their life casually or if it impacts social interactions (meals, etc.), but that works less well when box is X and the majority of the office is also X and everyone knows that. (Boss is Orthodox Jewish who keeps strict Kosher — relevant to where we dine, no-contact hours, and why he travels to Israel frequently. Pretty much no idea what/if anybody else practices religion.)

    3. Amber Rose*

      Yeah, seriously. I don’t really care what religion a person is, or even if someone is super religious, but I don’t feel comfortable discussing religion (particularly in a work setting) and think it’s one of those really tense issues that should be reserved for people you know well.

      1. alter_ego*

        yeah, I’ve had too many “but how do you know right from wrong” conversations to casually toss around the fact that I’m an atheist in the work place, even in a job where most people aren’t overtly religious. It’s one of those really ingrained assumptions about atheists that I see a lot in even nominally religious people.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I hate that. People really do not understand the distinction between morality and religion and I get tired of explaining it to them. And I’m not an atheist!

          1. Artemesia*

            I have been hearing this for 50 years or more. The idea that you are only a good person because you fear God is absurd. And a tad pathetic.

            I feel for the OP here having lived in an environment for 35 years where the first question asked in a social setting is about what church you go to and when you first arrive, people say things like ‘well, you’ll feel more at home here when you get churched.’

            It is no win to fight this — in a small company with a zealot in charge any resistance will make you out as someone to derail. A Jew might be able to avoid a Christian retreat but anyone of another Christian denomination or the dread atheist is going to have to accept this or take the risk of alienating the boss. I’d hope people would be brave and do just that, but it isn’t my job on the line.

            1. Natalie*

              Also a little scary. If the only thing holding you back is fear of punishment, what terrible things do you think of doing but don’t, because God?

              1. Cath in Canada*

                Agreed. It’s terrifying that apparently the only thing holding some people back from committing terrible crimes is the fear of punishment in the afterlife. It chills my blood every time I think about it.

                I wish more people would realise how many aspects of their preferred religion – such as a sense of right and wrong – are really just innate characteristics of the human race.

              2. Cooley-Tukey FFT*

                I have to object to the attorney’s characterization of this retreat as a “paid day off”. It may be paid, but snuggling with my coworkers in a church from 9-4 is not a “day off”. At least, not to me! :)

                To be fair, though, I have to wonder if the employer might be coming at this from an angle where he’s trying to do the right thing – but he’s just not seeing the problem here. Consider that a) he might truly think of this as a work-related exercise, and b) originally he wasn’t going to pay people to attend. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t win him any friends. So instead he thinks “okay, insted: this will be a training retreat and if you show up, you get paid?”

                It’s not like I feel this overwhelming need to try to defend him. But – I think there’s a possibility that he’s not *trying* to be a jerk.i know a lot of people of all manner of different faiths, all over the world, and that includes many, many Christians. And in my experience, very very very few of them have ever tried to proselytize their faith at me. (I’m not even sure that’s the right way to use that word!) I’m sure there are those out there who’ve had dreadful experiences, many times. But there is this commonly held belief that Christians want to shove their religion down other people’s throats. I’m not convinced.

                Having said that, what bothers me about Christian morality is not that “God will send me to hell if I’m bad”. What bugs me is the notion that God will forgive a sinner for their sins. A nice feature for a religion, on the face of it. But I’ve known people who use it as an excuse for all manner of bad behavior. They do bad things all week – and get forgiven on the weekend. And on Monday they start with the sinning again.

                1. Anonaconda*

                  I think you have some great points, but if the boss didn’t want to impose his religion on anyone, he wouldn’t have gone with a priest-led “retreat” in a church “on finding Peace and God with your fellow colleagues in the workplace.” I just can’t imagine that not having religious implications.

              3. Artemesia*

                Oh exactly. Like without sanctions everyone would naturally want to rape and pillage. Like the only thing holding me back from killing people is ‘fear.’ I hear evangelicals talk about homosexuality this way as if it were both this dreadful sin AND incredibly attractive. If Bob and Bob in their condo on the corner are accepted — if it is legal to be gay, why won’t my husband be tempted? Well mostly I think because he is not gay.

              4. Pennalynn Lott*

                Penn Jillette phrased it really well: “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine.”

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I like this, even though I do believe in God, because people forget about the whole free-will thing. “Why did God let this happen!?” Because he’s not hovering over you, making you do or not do stuff. You chose something stupid, or you passed on something you should have chosen, or you sat there and watched it happen and didn’t step up. People have brains and a conscience for a reason.

    4. AnonAnalyst*

      Yep, count me in here as well. My parents aren’t religious so it wasn’t really part of my upbringing, and I am most definitely not religious as an adult. This would make me extremely uncomfortable and I would probably be looking for another job, unless it was like a one time thing and it was otherwise the greatest job ever.

      1. alter_ego*

        And given the giant cross on the wall that the op mentioned elsewhere in the comments, I imagine this is not a one-time thing. So yeah, I’d be out.

    5. GOG11*

      I live in a very conservative area where the vast majority (probably over 90%) of people are a certain religion. Thus far in my career, I have worked for one organization that did not have a religious affiliation. I really hope my next job won’t be affiliated with any religion because there is no faster way to disappear in a crowded room than to be left twiddling your thumbs while everyone else is praying – before staff meetings, before organization-wide meetings, etc. etc. etc.

      That being said, though I have worked in a very religiously homogenous place (so people assume you’re of that religion, too) and for religious-ish organizations, and though I have had a lot of awkward moments of silence among my praying colleagues, I have never been put in a position like OP’s friend. Ugh.

      1. voyager1*

        Wow Michigan… this is something I would expect in backwoods Mississippi.

        My mind is blown on this one.

        1. Melissa*

          There’s a backwoods in almost every state in the U.S. Religiosity definitely isn’t limited to the rural South – and conversely, there are progressive parts of Mississippi, too.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      It just doesn’t belong at work, unless you happen to actually work at a church.

    7. Vicki*

      I subscribe to updates from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (www.au.org) and this looked so much like the sort of thing they post about. It’s not OK.

  2. Laurel Gray*

    Christian here and somewhat regular church goer and this is just AWFUL.

    Finding peace and God with my fellow colleagues in the workplace? Whoa!

    I go to church to pray for the patience, professionalism and strength to not go all Peter Finch in “Network” in my workplace, not to find peace and God with them!

    Sorry your husband is going through this, OP. Please update us, I hope the bosses come up with a fair alternative for those who do not wish to attend.

    1. Jeanne*

      I agree with you. As a Christian, I find this disturbing. I don’t want to be in a “forced” prayer service with my coworkers. Who knows what they will present as religious theories at this event. A day guided by a priest probably involves small group exercises where you are to detail your beliefs. Ugh.

      1. Steve G*

        One of my former coworkers caused a heck of a lot of agida for me for years by dumping work and stress on me, while they made the $ and got a promotion. I definitely was “un-Catholic” in not (mentally) forgiving them. I wouldn’t want to be forced into a situation where I felt I had to forgive them/prayer with them before I was ready to do so. Yes, I know it was to my detriment to carry around that baggage, but I wasn’t ready to let it go for a long time.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Hey, there’s never a timeline on forgiveness, no matter what other people might think. You’re not ready until you’re ready, and if you’re never really ready, that’s okay too.

          Those people were jerks.

      2. Melissa*

        Exactly – even if you are religious, and even if you are Christian, there are different Christian denominations and different Christians worship in different ways. Even when I was Christian I’ve definitely visited some churches that made me never want to return because the theory was kooky or the pastor was hateful in the sermon or something.

    2. Steve G*

      I am Catholic and I probably would go on the retreat, but :

      1) There are so many meaningful non-religious retreats/lectures/field trips to be had, why one to a specific church? A lot of sermons aren’t necessarily religious in nature, they could almost be life coaching if they didn’t take place in a church. Why not take the life coaching part into a secular environment (as much as I am for bringing people into the church community, if an event doesn’t need to happen there, don’t have it there)
      2) Exposing your Christianity (or whatever religion) at work is very tricky. People inevitably note that you’ve either been drunk, gossiped, aren’t always the nicest person, or some vague reference to not being the happiest person in the world, as if having a religion somehow means you’ve gotten rid of all personality flaws (instead of using religion as a means to get there, which is probably a lifelong journey). Having those types of discussion at work gets messy, especially for those you want to keep the tough business guy exterior with for whatever reason,
      3) There may be the person who does a religion “symbolically” but doesn’t really believe in all of its tenets or even know what its tenets are, and to possibly have a non-religious coworker observe another coworker claiming to be religious go through the motions without feeling what they are doing is going to really confuse the non-religious one about what religion is all about

      1. LBK*

        I’m biting my tongue (biting my fingers?) from going off on a tear here about religion, but I just want to note regarding #2 that in my experience, the idea that religion means you’ve gotten rid of your flaws is most often promoted by Christians themselves. Religion is treated as the answer to all shortcomings – if you’re gossiping/drinking/otherwise sinning, it must be because you need God in your life. It’s really grating to those of us who aren’t religious, even though from the perspective of a believer, focusing on their faith may have genuinely helped them.

        Hopefully that gives a little context; if you’re feeling judged by people for being Christian, it may be the result of those people feeling judged by Christians.

        1. J.B.*

          At the same time, the behaviors that bother you often come from those who judge Christians of any denomination other than their own. Those people equally offend me and would call me “not Christian” because I happen not to espouse the same rigid viewpoints. Not that I’m going to be going around talking about religion outside of my church!

        2. Elizabeth West*

          It’s grating even to a lot of people who are–all the “blessed day: and let-go-let-God shit really gets on my nerves. If I’m pissed at Mary for dicking around all day and not turning in the TPS reports on time so we got in trouble, that doesn’t mean I need God; it means Mary is a jerk.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yessss. Hell, I’ve run into it in freaking paganism. Too happy? Too mad? You’re not grounded and centered! Eff off, person, I’m not mad because I need to ground, I’m mad because Doofusman just said something really rude.

          2. LBK*

            Great point (and made better by the use of the name Mary, which made me imagine Jesus’s mother dicking around on the internet and not doing her reports).

      2. Ad Astra*

        One thing I appreciate about Catholics (and there are other denominations like this as well) is their reluctance to recruit and convert. If you want to be Catholic, they have a pretty lengthy process for making that happen; it’s onerous enough that you probably wouldn’t bother unless you felt it in your heart. If you don’t want to be Catholic, they leave you alone.

        1. AAA*

          Hmm. Tell that to the people of South America, or Central America, or the Philippines, or large swaths of Africa… I know that Catholics tend not to proselytize so much now, but their history is full of bloody forced conversions.

          1. Ad Astra*

            A good point. I should have added that this was just in my experience, because it’s definitely not that way everywhere.

          2. Chinook*

            “I know that Catholics tend not to proselytize so much now, but their history is full of bloody forced conversions.”

            Bloody forced conversions? I know my N. American history from a Canadian perspective with a heavy dose of Catholic history added, and I can’t think of any bloody conversions (actually an ineffective method for long term recruitment when you say convert or die). Forced, yes but usually with the blessing of government policy trying to wipe out the culture (vs. wiping out the actual people, which was not policy here after the travesty of the Beothuks). Canada just released a Truth and Reconciliation Commission document that goes into great detail about this and also points out that it wasn’t just the Catholics doing this but various Christian groups at the request of the government (because, at that time, there were no secular schools or hospitals here). Before government financial support, those same missionaries actually lived among those they wished to convert and learned the language and culture in order to better proselytize (and were often killed as a result of their efforts).

            1. to*

              You can’t think of any bloody conversions? The inquisition? Catholic missionaries in modern California and southwest US? I’m no expert but there are plenty of examples. Doing it with gov consent doesn’t absolve them.

              1. kara*

                Look up Charlemagne and the Massacre at Verden, Pope Innocent III, the various Inquisitions (including the famed Spanish one), all of the Crusades …. If you can’t think of any bloody forced conversions by the Catholic church, you’re not thinking hard enough.

            2. JBeane*

              Pretty much all of the indigenous populations of what is now Latin America were victims of bloody, forced conversions. There’s a lot of documentation of that.

        2. Steve G*

          I never thought of that but I guess it is true. I guess I don’t pick up on the recruitment attempts because there is so much weird s*** going on here in NYC I brush it off. But just 3 weeks ago, a guy asked me for directions, and then him and three friends started following me telling me that God was a woman, and we are living in the 6000th year, and God is coming back very soon, so we better be ready, blah blah blah. Their church is scaringly close to my house. I said, why does it matter what gender God is, because, well, that’s a whole other discussion. But also, the book of Revelation specifically says we don’t know when the Second Coming is, so how does this niche little congregation know? So, yeah, the recruitment attempts of some churches can be quite aggressive and off-putting!

          On a side note, he complained I gave him a workout by walking so fast. I was thinking, duh, idiot, you were FOLLOWING me so I was speedwalking to get away,

        3. Dynamic Beige*

          No, they don’t recruit or convert… they just tell you that you’re going Hell where you’ll X, Y, and Z punishments, tortured for all eternity in fiery damnation as a non-believer of the One True Religion. Or that’s what happened to my sister when she was a kid and her best friend told her that. Scared her so bad she went to Mass with them for about a month. Didn’t stick but she was only 6 or 7 at the time. FWIW, we were raised “free from all the superstition and ignorance that lead men to hate one another in the name of God.” When I read that line, it hit me as very apt. YMMV and that is my personal opinion, and no reflection on the tenets of your faith, how you worship or practice that faith.

      3. Hellanon*

        Per #3: I would say, as a non-religious person, I’m not confused about other peoples’ religions, I actually don’t really care. I just frequently find myself wishing the religious would leave me & my decision-making alone…

    3. Original Letter Writer*

      Hi Laurel,

      OP here – my friend’s husband ended up not going and working on Saturday – which meant that he was not paid for an hour he normally would have been and had to rearrange plans he had on that Saturday in order to make up most of his work hours.

      It’s completely icky. But this is a company that also has a gigantic cross hanging up and made sure to Point That Out To Employees when it went up, so it’s sadly not that surprising.

      1. Ad Astra*

        You know, the giant cross would bother me a little. The semi-required day of worship would bother me a whole lot.

        I think even a large number of religious people would be horrified at the thought of dealing with something as personal as faith in a room full of coworkers. No thank you.

      2. neverjaunty*

        Jesus had a number of very pointed things to say about those who loudly brag about how pious they are, and those people’s likely results in the afterlife. I’d be tempted to anonymously point that out to these bosses.

        (Who am I kidding; I’d just talk to a lawyer, But still.)

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        I think your friend should copy-paste what the attorney told Alison and mail it to the God fearer in charge. Unless your friend was the omly one that didn’t participate

        1. Original Letter Writer*

          I’m not sure how many people did/did not participate. I actually emailed her asking that question and passed along this post.

    4. Helka*


      I’m Christian and quite religious, but part of a very non-mainstream denomination, and more mainline services/activities/what have you can be as uncomfortable for me as they are for someone who isn’t Christian at all.

      Also I like how it’s “We will try to accommodate you,” leaving themselves enough weasel room that they should shrug and go “Oh well, turns out we can’t accommodate you after all, no paid day if you don’t go!”

    5. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’m a rather devout Christian, and have even attended a Bible study with co-workers on our break. And this is just wrong. If something is true, no coercion is needed.

    6. BananaPants*

      I’m also Christian (mainline Protestant) and a fairly regular church-goer and I find this whole scenario so squicky and awful! I would be horrified to be presented with such an “opportunity”.

  3. trilby*

    “If your friend’s husband is up for it, he could follow my basic advice for asserting your legal rights at work and start from the assumption that the employer doesn’t realize that there’s a legal problem, and that he is courteously bringing it to their attention.”

    Allison gives this kind of advice all the time, and I think it’s fabulous. So often I find myself reframing my (or others’) work problems in terms of – is this a problem the employer might not realize, and can I courteously mention it and make sure it gets addressed? It’s remarkable how often this approach will get you exactly what you hope for.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      I really want to believe that but think theyd still find a way to retaliate and might just be ignorant enough to take the risk that the employee may not have the money or energy to sue…and in the meantime will get everyone to begin praying for him immediately that “the lord may soften his heart “

      1. trilby*

        I’m not saying the employer might not try to retaliate. I’m just pointing out, not every business owner or manager is savvy about the full implications of these laws. If they are religiously devout and believe they have a responsibility to promote their religion, why shouldn’t they use the workplace to do so? So, you need to educate them and explain that no, you are legally not allowed to use the workplace to do so.

        Sure there are crazy people who will take this as an affront, but those types tend to be people you wouldn’t want to be working for in the first place and this probably wouldn’t be the first time you saw their crazy in action.

  4. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    I work at an institution with an explicit religious affiliation and I’ve never even seen anything like that here, even though they do offer and advertise the occasional retreat or prayer group (usually around the holidays). I feel like if a place that is religious at its core can be chill enough to not do things that come off as favoring employees of the same affiliation it shouldn’t be that hard for other places.

    1. zora*

      Seriously, I was about to say this, too. I actually worked for a Catholic archdiocese, and I NEVER felt any pressure to participate in religious observation, or even listen to any discussion of Catholic theology.* Some of the Catholic staff were a little perplexed when they found out I didn’t even consider myself Christian (oh, so you’re Jewish? You’re not? Um, what else is there? Huh?) but I never felt like they were treating me differently in anyway based on my religion. These employers are both obnoxious and pretty dumb. I actually hope they do get busted for this. Ugh.

      *well, the annual Christmas party was pretty cheesy and annoying and way to dang long. But I am not a fan of the ‘secular’ Christmas stuff, either, so that wasn’t necessarily because of any religious element. And I always had the option to not attend and still get paid for that time as normal, but I was a poor young person, so the free food tipped the scales on the cost-benefit analysis for me.

  5. Rae*

    Although this is icky, I wish that more people would be aware of it. Recently we had the option to do either a 2 hour yoga and meditation “training” or work the remainder of the day (4 hours). Upon reading it, it was truly “new age” which I’m not into per my religion, and another co-worker who was atheist also felt it was too spiritual. No one else had an issue. Yet they squeaked it through in a company with 1000+ employees, because it was “technically” not a religion, even though a quasi-religious enlightenment center was offering it. Good guideline—if you have “worshipers” you don’t belong leading a group activity using that worship in an office or sponsored by one.

    1. Jeanne*

      What you are talking about is also icky. I have been to yoga retreats (not with coworkers) and I would not want to do those with my coworkers any more than the religious retreat. The exercises you do in a meditation retreat are also meant for you to open up and talk about very personal things. And then to do it during work hours like that. No.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Agreed on the icky. I had a boss years ago who was really into a lot of spirtual/new-agey healing things and I was pretty offended by his offers to “heal” me from my headache/sprained ankle/cold. That stuff wasn’t part of any organized religion, but it’s a similar message/vibe, and it is not okay with me to deal with that at work (atheist here).

      1. Zillah*

        I hate people like that. Believe what you want, but don’t push it on me, and definitely don’t minimize my health concerns or make me feel uncomfortable asking you for accommodations because you want to “heal” me instead.

        1. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

          Do you read Captain Awkward? Her 4/24/15 letter, no. 694, is “How do I get out of mandatory corporate yoga retreat and keep my career intact?”

          It’s a doozy. I just don’t get why employers decide to inflict this kind of thing on their workers.

          1. Carpe Librarium*

            I thought of that post when I saw Rae’s and Jeanne’s comments, too.
            I felt so bad for CA’s OP when I read that letter; what a gut-churning situation.

      2. Bekx*

        I used to WORK at a place that was basically new agey on a science/therapy that isn’t really…um…well let’s say it has a lot of skepticism. My boss was exactly like that. “You just need to do _____, your headache will clear right up!” or “There’s a study out about how ________ can CURE autism and even CANCER. Isn’t that amazing??”

          1. Chinook*

            Hey – to its credit, chiropractic can relieve some headaches and back pains (I know from experience). I never understand how biomechanics could cure cancer, though.

            1. Melissa*

              Acupuncture is also indicated for lower back pain. A lot of health insurance companies will actually cover acupuncture for that.

              I have chronic migraine and I occasionally see a chiropractor – the adjustments really do help resolve the migraines. And I have yet to be to a new-agey chiropractor. (I did have a chiropractor once who had a massage therapist who subscribed to Reiki, but in her defense, her massages were excellent regardless of what she believed they did.)

            2. Jessa*

              My issue with chiropractic is that when they go beyond “re-aligning this part of you that is damaged or out of place, will stop your back pain, or maybe a headache cause of neck problems,” and go into “chiro can cure asthma and other stuff,” I find another practitioner. Lately there’s this weird new agey – in a bad way – thing that chiro can cure the world and it’s just not true.

              Full disclosure, I’m a pagan so I’m way new agey, but there’s a point where it gets incredibly weird and unsupportable. And evidence based medicine to me is kinda the way to go, and there ARE some things that come from new agey stuff that DO prove out. But chiro cures all? um no.

              1. RMRIC0*

                I think for Chiropractic it’s a pendulum swing, since for a while they were trying to give themselves a pretty mainstream and sedate appearance. Witch CAm being more generally understood and accepted, some have started back on that nonsense (since it sells) and you have more people entering the field that were exposed to CAM and take it seriously.

          2. Bekx*

            Nope. But actually I did see a sports chiropractor who was awesome. He fixed my issue with 3 treatments and didn’t lock me into a “you must come back every 3 weeks”. It was mostly joint manipulation.

    3. Ad Astra*

      Ick. I don’t want to do anything even remotely spiritual with my coworkers, and I’d prefer not to exercise with them, either.

    4. Chinook*

      The idea of a city sponsored yoga retreat that took over a major bridge in Vancouver on June 21st didn’t go over well partially because of the hypocrisy of celebrating a foreign spiritual movement on National Aboriginal Day just a week after winding up the Truth & Reconciliation commission (never mind it also being Father’s Day). Yoga definitely has a spiritual aspect to it and, if you need it to do it in a specific place (say over water instead of the nice, giant park two blocks away), one must wonder if there is an ulterior motive.

      I speak as someone who believes in the physical aspects of yoga but has been known to turn around and leave when the yoga instructor has asked for us to meditate on her chosen topic for a part of the activity. Sun Worship as a pose I understand (because that is what you like while doing it). Telling me to now reach into my chakras and offer them up is where I draw the line.

        1. Oranges*

          I’m sorry but I don’t know enough about this and am curious why it’s so tone deaf? I’m not saying it’s okay, I literally don’t have the data. Could you please explain or point me in the direction of an explanation?

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, also icky. And again not really fair to those who don’t care to participate. I mean, why should they then get to finish 2 hours earlier and then go home for participating? Why can’t employers just make it an equal thing? You either go to the retreat thingy for 3 hours OR you stay and work 3 hours.

  6. Cambridge Comma*

    It’s so satisfying somehow when the answer to “is this legal?” is “probably not!”

  7. AnnieNonymous*

    It’s ridiculous that a church is even offering any kind of employment seminar. They know what they’re doing by getting businesses to sign up.

    1. Kyrielle*

      They may not realize it’s not legal, but yes, they know what they’re doing and ick. To be fair, did they offer it, or did $BusinessOwner approach them and ask for such a thing? But still. Ick.

    2. Original Letter Writer*

      I don’t even think this is an *employment* seminar – I think this is just “come hang out and find God with people you know,” it just so happens that these people are coworkers

      1. Jeanne*

        It says it’s about finding peace with others. The others are coworkers but the priest could probably give the seminar to anyone. It’s not really an employment seminar.

  8. Dana*

    Ugh, I’m in Michigan and feel guilty by association. One of my co-workers teaches yoga after business hours during the week in a nearby building and she has managed to never make it anything that even resembles ick.

  9. Apollo Warbucks*

    Having a region is a lot like having a penis, it’s fine to have one you can even be proud of it, but please don’t take it out in public and I really don’t want it rammed down my throat.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      Thanks for this! I’ll be using it in the future when people start trying to convert me or otherwise pushing religion into my life when I’ve make it clear I’m not interested.

    2. Three Thousand*

      I’ve seen that billboard a couple of times when traveling. I really wish we could have some in my town.

  10. Suzanne*

    This seems very odd & I am Christian. You can’t force religious feelings on people.
    It made me think it’s the other side of the coin from a job I had that was supposed to be M-F until they decided on mandatory OT on Sunday starting @ 8:00 am. When I objected to Sunday work because I’d miss church services, they told me I could come in as soon as the building opened @ 5:00 am, work til I had to leave for church, and then return after church until the building closed @ 4:00 pm, making up what was left of 8 hours the next week ( a week which was already full of mandatory OT).
    In other words, many businesses don’t seem to know how to deal with employees religious practices…or lack thereof.

    1. Kiki*

      How is OT mandatory?

      (Never mind, Just looked it up and it’s legal except in California! Yay for the “except in California” rule!)

    2. Lucky*

      I don’t see this as the other side of the coin of coerced religious practice. Your employer accommodated you by allowing you to leave for church and make up the time later. I get that it was inconvenient to you, but they don’t have to accommodate your religious practices, they just can’t accommodate all the Christian employees and then refuse to give similar accommodations to the Jewish ones, the Muslim ones, etc.

  11. penny*

    Sounds horrible. I don’t even like going to church at a family reunion. My dad’s family is super Catholic and while I’m a Christian I’m strongly against many catholic “rules and teachings”plus their services are boring to me. I skipped church at this Summer’s reunion and enjoyed His bounty hiking instead! Bad enough to feel pressure within family where you can speak up, but at work that’s just wrong.

  12. Allison*

    The “nope” is strong with this one . . .

    If you want to give people a chance to attend a religious seminar, then by all means, allow them to do this, but you can’t close the warehouse and tell people they can only get paid for that day if they attend the seminar. Either have both the warehouse and the office open and pay people as long as they either work or go to the seminar, or offer *everyone* an extra day of PTO or extra vacation day, however you do it, and either let them use it on that day or let them use it later if they wish.

    This also seems incredibly classist. The corporate staff may still have a chance to work that day if they don’t want to go, but the warehouse workers are basically being told “if you want to get paid for that day, you need to attend a religious seminar.”

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t offer any incentive, but this isn’t the way to go about it.

  13. Melanie*

    Is the organization a Christian/religious based organization/company? Doesn’t say. I work for a Christian organization (insurance company) and it’s just part of the culture so things like that are no big deal. My company has thousands of employees of all faiths or non-faiths but if you choose to work for a company that is openly religious or has a religious purpose then it comes with the territory. Now if it’s a non-religious company and it’s coming out of left field where they have never seen any communication like that then yeah that could be bizarre. I don’t see that they are forcing anything on anyone. Just giving the option. Again not knowing what type of company it is or where it’s based or what the culture of the organization or the environment is, it’s hard to say.

    1. Melanie*

      Oh wait I missed the paid day off to people who attend the service vs people who don’t. Yeah that’s weird. I didn’t get that that is what she was saying but if that is what she meant then yeah that is a no no.

    2. alter_ego*

      I imagine that if it had been a religious organization, it would have been mentioned, but either way “Come to church with us, or we’ll pay you X fewer dollars than usual” isn’t actually a choice.

    3. Original Letter Writer*

      This is not a religious company, but the owners themselves are *very* religious. They hung a gigantic cross up on the premises.

    4. ThursdaysGeek*

      I dunno. I worked for the LDS church in a for-profit business and while there were a (very) few events where it was a bit awkward being non-Mormon, none of them were mandatory or compensated only if you went. Almost all of the time, we worked as a business, and the Church was just something upper management had to deal with.

  14. Amber Rose*

    I have nothing useful to contribute to this discussion so instead have a funny/creepy story about the time a cult locked me in a room:

    Once upon a time my husband was having the worst back pain. A chiropractor had opened up across the street and neither of us could drive so it seemed super convenient and he scheduled a consulting appointment. When he came back he said “you have to come with me to an orientation meeting this weekend before my first treatment.”

    I figured it was like a, change has to be made by everyone in the home kind of lecture and agreed. We got there and we’re directed to some chairs and a bunch of other people filtered in. Then a man came in and, after introducing himself, locked the front door. With a key.

    What followed was the formula for every cult indoctrination ever seen on comedy TV. Anyone remember Leader from The Simpsons? Like that. He made big claims about the evils of modern medicine, had people finish his sentences about the wonders of the human body, and shamed women who use birth control. Something about messing with the way God made us.

    Much like The Simpsons, leaving would have pulled a metaphorical spotlight so nobody did. I spent my time humming “na na na na na na na na Leader” and struggling not to laugh or flip chairs, as I was alternating between pissed and amused.

    I was the first one out at the end. Needless to say, we did not go back. Also I am intensely distrustful of anyone trying to get me in a room I can’t leave to give me peace. :/

      1. Amber Rose*

        I guess because as a chiropractor he was all about natural remedies rather than drugs? It was all pretty bizarre.

        1. Steve G*

          Oh OK. Wow, well, I had a really bad ecoli infection when I was 21 and that was not going away on its own! I had oral and IV antibiotics in the hospital. I feel it definitely would have killed me if it was back in the day. While I believe in faith healings, etc., at that point, my body was so under attack there was no way to start thinking about any of this, all I could do was clench my fists and punch the bed because it felt like my head was being eaten from the inside out.

      2. Ad Astra*

        A lot of chiropractors think we rely too much on modern medicine, especially drugs, to deal with health issues. But this is… really something else.

        1. Original Letter Writer*

          Wasn’t chiropractice originally started as a religious practice? I feel like I read that somewhere once…

            1. Artemesia*

              And remains so although massages can make people feel better. The science is ludicrous.

      3. Kelly L.*

        There are religions that do not believe in modern medicine, or in particular aspects of it.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t give a rat’s ass about spotlights, so I’d have been out of there pretty quick. Door locked? No problem. You let me the hell out or I’ll get out any way I can.

      1. Amber Rose*

        At first I think shock kept me in my seat. Then I tried to rationalize it. After a while I was sorta curious.

        It was just so unexpected.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          I must have been posting almost the same time you were, but I’m slightly amending my response. I could see staying out of morbid curiosity. But if I were ready to leave I would absolutely be out, spotlight or no (although I would totally have been thinking “na na na na na na na na Leader” while doing it!)

          1. Artemesia*

            I think I would have taken pleasure in disrupting the process by making a fuss about the door locking thing.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              “Claustrophobia! OMG I’m gonna freak! I can’t breathe! Let me out! Let me OUUUUUTT!!!” Then when the door is open, stroll out: “See ya.”

      2. AnonAnalyst*

        Yeah, this would be me too. Hell to the no am I staying in there. But I am also very obnoxious and impatient, so I realize this approach isn’t for everyone.

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      Oooh, you handled that much more calmly than I would have. I’d have made for the exit and thrown a fit if they hadn’t let me leave, including calling the cops and telling them I was being held against my will, metaphorical spotlight or not. …Goodness me, I’m becoming my mother.

    3. OriginalEmma*

      Wow. Not that I ever hope you end up in that situation again, but a quick OBVIOUS call to the local authorities about unlawful imprisonment might change the Leader’s tune!

    4. AW*

      I spent my time humming “na na na na na na na na Leader”

      I couldn’t remember the episode until you said that.

      I’m guessing you didn’t have a cell phone because I would have called the police and told them I was being held against my will.

      1. AW*

        Dang, missed that several people already said this and that you already explained why you stayed.

    5. Dana*

      This is really what’s keeping me from seeing a chiropractor just for wellness/maintenance–I’m one of those people who can twist in a chair and sound like all their bones are breaking, but it feels great. So I would like to see one, but after watching the facebook of a friend going to chiro school I am way too creeped out to do it. She’d post things like “Angelina Jolie shouldn’t have had a double mastectomy and wouldn’t have to worry about cancer if she just ate homegrown vegetables and thought clean thoughts blah blah blah”.

      1. Angelfish*

        Try a physical therapist? I’ve found they are more evidence-based and a good source of referrals to massage therapists you can trust.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Seconding physiotherapy. My physiotherapist is one of my favorite people. She’s a sweetheart who chats with me about random things while doing deliciously painful adjustments to my muscles/encouraging me through difficult stretches. And then apologizes for tickling me. =P

        1. chump with a degree*

          Thirding. PT have actual medical training and are less likely to injure you.

      3. meadowsweet*

        Try the chiropractor, seriously. I’ve never had one say anything like that to me, because that’s just…silly. The ones I’ve been to have all been very sensible people with good, practical advice (that wasn’t offered until asked for)
        If you have people you trust who go to a chiropractor ask them for reccomendations (that’s how I found my current one), check your area’s certifications board(s), and feel no compunction about noping the heck on out of there if you need to!

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          I’ve been to a couple of chiropractors (saw one for over a year who really helped with my posture) and naturopaths and I have never been locked in a room and expected to chant that modern medicine is evil and all my diseases are the result of not adopting a vegan lifestyle and negative emotions.

          I think that like therapists, there are good ones and bad ones and you don’t know what you’ve got until you see them and find out. If you are interested, ask around your other friends who haven’t studied it or at work and see if anyone can give a recommendation. That way you’ll get a chance to ask if you’re going to be subjected to The Leader before you go.

    6. Rebecca*

      “Oh, you’re free to leave at any time. Do you mind telling us why?”

      That is nuts! Something similar happened to a friend, but it was a “yoga” studio. And the first things that comes up when you Google the studio’s name are articles about how it’s a cult.

      1. kt (lowercase)*

        Or maybe the fire department. Locking a bunch of people IN a room? With a key? So they can’t get out without a key? There is not enough nope in the world.

  15. Workfromhome*

    “Dear Religious wacko Company Owner,

    Thank you for the offer of paid time off to attend a religious event. Since my own religion prevents me from attending events from other religions I will gladly accept the paid time off to worship under the rules of my own religion.

    I’m sure you have no intention to force me to act in any way counter to my own religious beliefs as that would be illegal so I will assume that I will be paid for the day set aside for the particing of religion.

    Mr Employee

    The idea that you will only be paid if you conform to someone else’s religion is both illegal and offensive.

  16. AUB*

    Is it possible that the employer would pay both employees considered ‘attendees’ and ‘non-attendees’ regular wages even in the hour differentiation? Couldn’t they decide to do so as an employers? If so, both groups receive the PTO.

    **As a note/thought – there are religious people out there who attend business events and outings with colleagues or clients that involve drinking, gambling, or other activities that might be disagreeable to their personal moral or religious stance because they are encouraged to participate by being there or are required to do so by their management. Why then is this generally accepted and allowable? (especially in the business/sales industries).

    1. SouthernBelle*

      RE: your note/thought – that is a very good point….

      Also, in reading the original letter, I didn’t see it as a service; it sounded more like a workshop with a spiritual overtones that’s meant to create harmony in the workplace. In light of recent events, I have a hard time finding fault with the effort, even if the delivery is a bit heavy-handed.

      The compensation issue is problematic and should be addressed/corrected, but I don’t see anything heinous, icky or any other similar description about offering the option. It’s quite possible that Father Whoever is a trained counselor/psychologist/facilitator and, rather than use this Retreat as a recruiting opportunity for his church, he uses it to utilize his training in helping others.

  17. EA*

    Another thing to consider is whether your friend’s husband is covered by a union contract. (Being that he’s a warehouse worker, it is a distinct possibility). If so, then the union contract may state something about the amount of advanced noticed required before a schedule is changed.

    When I was a union member, our contract stated that if our schedule was reduced with less than 5 days written notice, we were entitled to be paid for all hours originally scheduled. (There were clauses that let them off the hook for an “unavoidable act of nature”, but I don’t think a pre-planned religious retreat would qualify)

  18. Pennalynn Lott*

    As a B2B manufacturing software salesperson, I called on a rolled steel company in Alabama once. Flew out from Dallas to their plant, and brought along my pre-sales engineer. The president of the company had requested we show up at 10:30 for a plant tour, which would take about an hour. I had assumed that we’d take him (and some of his team members) out for lunch afterward. Nope. We were invited to participate in his company-wide Wednesday lunch bible study. As in, he was the one leading it. According to several of the employees I talked to later, it was “mandatory” in that if you didn’t go you would mysteriously find yourself without a job within a month. There were at least 200 people working for him.

    The president was the one who chose the date and time for us to come visit his plant. He did this on purpose as a test. I can assure you that we failed. (“Oh, thank you, but no, we don’t want to intrude on anything so private as a bible study. We’ll come back in an hour.”) Sick, sick, sick.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      I should add that this mandatory lunch hour bible study was unpaid. Because the employees were at “lunch” and not working.

  19. SlickWilly*

    “Icky.” “Sick.” “…so glad not to work with religious people…”

    This kind of commentary directed toward people of any other lifestyle pushing their agenda in the workplace would be called intolerant, bigoted, maybe even hateful. Funny how it appears to be acceptable here.

    1. GOG11*

      It’s not the fact that people are religious or that an organization has religious ties so much as the power dynamics that come into play when religion and work are mixed together in this way. To use power you have over someone to push your religious agenda is “icky” and “sick” and enough to make some people glad that they don’t work in an organization where outward displays of religion like this are acceptable.

      Forcing people to attend a religious event or face docked pay is an abuse of the power an organization holds over its employees, which is very much what a lot of religions aren’t about. So, because of the dynamics in play here, this is twisting both professional and religious values/norms.

      I may be a bit more generous in my assessment regarding some of the specific comments you’re citing here, but I don’t read them as bigoted or intolerant. They’re not saying that religion is icky or sick, they’re saying that this specific mix of circumstances is.

      1. SlickWilly*

        Spare me the tolerant, enlightened humanist routine. Your comment is hostile. Does church shooting, nine dead mean anything to you? Do you think it was 100% racism-fueled?

            1. AUB*

              Super annoying. I love this blog. I hate when this kind of thing gets said: ‘spare me the persecuted Christian routine’. Spare me the religious critique!

    2. Book Person*

      “lifestyle” and “pushing their agenda” are pretty blatant buzzwords, but ok, I’ll bite:

      There is a significant difference between who someone is and what they do. No one would be fired or called “icky” for being Christian in and of itself. Using the dual positions of religion and position within a company to financially penalize non-religious employees is what’s “icky.” Also, illegal.

      If you’re calling someone “icky” or “sick” for being [whatever “agenda” means in your comment above], or treating them differently for [“lifestyle”], then yes, that is hateful.

      1. SlickWilly*

        Lifestyle is meant to be inclusive because not every “religion” calls themselves a religion. That’s all. I sense that you took it about LGBT, which was not the intent.

    3. Pennalynn Lott*

      It would be just as sick and icky if the owner of a company held his employees financially hostage so that he could read to them from a Richard Dawkins book. Or forced everyone to wear cosplay costumes. Or to kneel on a rug and pray five times a day to Allah. It has nothing to do with Christianity in and of itself. It has to do with abusing a position of power, and doing something that is *illegal*.

      SlickWilly, I certainly hope you don’t equate Christianity with financially punishing employees who don’t follow your particular set of personal beliefs. Because that most definitely is “sick” and “icky”, and — oh yeah — ILLEGAL.

      1. SlickWilly*

        Hi. No, we agree — it is of course illegal. Regardless of my personal beliefs, I am an ally of Christians. I don’t believe in pushing personal beliefs of any sort in the workplace. But reading through this set of comments made me feel that there was a bit more derogatory language about the faith in general than there ought to be. Unfortunately my defense has brought others in a stronger mode of defense and blood pressure a notch higher, so I’ll let this one go.

  20. Elkay*

    Apologies if I’ve missed this but it reads to me like if people go to the retreat they are getting paid for an extra hour on Thursday plus four hours on Saturday as well as being paid for Friday. That would be my concern, not only are you an hour worse off if you don’t go if you do go you’re being given the opportunity for 5 hours extra work.

  21. JJ*

    ewwww- so icky! I once had a boss that was ultra religious and i was living with my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) and when we got engaged, he made a snarky remark asking when the wedding was, and then commented that it was wonderful how i wasn’t going to be living in sin much longer. uh, yeah- i ran out of there screaming a few months later and never looked back!

    this man also made us have prayer before our weekly staff meeting, yet kept getting his car towed because he insisted on parking in handicapped spots.

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