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Patrick, Esq.
Patrick, Esq., Lawyer
Category: California Employment Law
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Experience:  Significant experience in all areas of employment law.
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I work at a non-denominational, evangelical based, non-church

Customer Question

I work at a non-denominational, evangelical based, non-church affiliated Christian school. We are a not-for-profit organization. Our mission is to provide quality Christian education to students. We do not restrict admission based on religious background of applicants. Recently, the leadership of the school has aligned itself with a fringe "Christian" organization about which some of us senior managers feel uneasy. We are being "strongly encouraged" to participate in a conference next Fall that is sponsored by this organization. The board wants our spouses and children to come as well, in order to learn about this movement. I believe this is a departure from our core mission and my question is does the school have a right to tell me what to think and do I have a right, having been employed here for 14 years, to disagree with this new philosophy? Of course, I can quit but I would prefer not to since I believe in the quality educational opportunities that the school provides. I just don't agree with this new ideological movement and would prefer to limit association as much as possible. What are my options? Thanks in advance.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: California Employment Law
Expert:  Patrick, Esq. replied 5 years ago.
Hello and thank you so much for entrusting me to answer your question. I completely understand your concerns in regard to the direction that your school is taking.

Unfortunately, the laws in this area strongly favor the employer. Absent an employment contract guaranteeing you employment for a specified period of time, you are what is known as an "at will" employee. More specifically, California Labor Code Section 2922 provides that: "employment, having no specified term, may be terminated at the will of either party on notice to the other."

What this means is that your employer is free to terminate you for any reason whatsoever, even a reason that is entirely unfair, such as not participating in an employer-sponsored conference, unless the underlying motivation is discriminatory or otherwise in violation of California law.

An employee is of course free to disagree with the new philosphy and direction that his or her employer is headed, but that employer would also be free to release the employee assuming none of the above exceptions to at will employment apply.

It may be possible to argue that termination for failure to adopt the school's new theological direction constitutes discrimination. However, religious-based organizations enjoy certain immunities from such claims pursuant to federal law. Specifically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act section 703 permits discrimination in hiring and firing when the nature of a particular job is such that an employer legitimately requires a person of a particular religion or faith. Put another way, section 703 provides that if a “bona fide occupational requirement” of a position includes certain religious beliefs, an employer can refuse to employe anyone other than a person who holds the required beliefs.

Now, of course there would be some question as to whether a refusal to adopt the particular new "direction" of the school would qualify as a religious belief that is essential to your position, but the possibility that this exception would apply still very much exists.

So to summarize, an "at will" employee can typically be terminated for any reason or no reason, including refusing to attend an employer-sponsored conference or adopt the new ideological direction of the organization. Termination on the basis of a difference in religious views may qualify as "discrimination," but an organization is permitted to engage in such discriminatory practice if a particular religious view is a bona fide occupational requirement.

If you have any questions or concerns whatsoever regarding my answer, please do not hesitate to ask for clarification.

I sincerely hope that this information helps you and I wish you the very best of luck. Bear in mind that none of the above constitutes legal advice nor is any attorney client relationship created between us.

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