When it comes to job discrimination, as a Pagan or Wiccan you may find yourself face-to-face with an employer who simply doesn’t know anything about your path, as opposed to one who is intentionally discriminating against you. Many Pagans do not wear religious jewelry at work, such as pentgrams or other symbols, because they are concerned it could cost them their jobs. Many more choose not to come out of the broom closet at all because of similar fears.
Before you start panicking about the possibility of discrimination or harassment at work, make sure you educate yourself about what actually constitutes discrimination. There is currently no official legal definition that applies in all states, but the best way to describe it is: if you're being singled out at work because of your faith by your superiors, or being treated in a way that makes it harder to do your job, this *could* be construed as discrimination. Note that the word "supervisors" was in there. This means that if a co-worker in the next cubicle, who has the same job status as you, says she thinks Wiccans are just icky, that's NOT discrimination. If she leaves helpful little "Why Pagans Will Burn In Hell" pamphlets in your lunchbox, that's harassment -- more on that in a minute.
Protection Under the Law
According to the "Employment at Will" act, your employer is allowed to hire, fire, promote, or demote you any time, for any reason, and without even stating a reason, unless you have a written contract that states otherwise. There are four exceptions to this:
- for your religion, color, gender, ethnic background or any other reason mentioned in the civil rights acts
- for filing complaints with Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) organizations
- for organizing a union, which falls under the protection of the National Fair Labor Practices Act
- for any disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
If, for example, a supervisor asks you to remove a religious symbol at work, first ask that the request come in writing. Secondly, speak to the Human Resources Department if your employer has one. Let them know -- politely, and NOT in a manner that seems defensive -- that you are curious as to the company’s policy on wearing religious jewelry, and if it is applied to employees of all faiths. There’s a good chance your supervisor is simply uneducated, and a quick check with HR will nip things in the bud.
What If Someone Is Being a Pest?
If you have someone who repeatedly asks you questions about religion, either at work or during a job interview, simply say, "I'm sorry, I prefer not to discuss religion on the job." There is no legal reason for an employer to ask you questions about your religious preference. If you feel you've been denied a job opportunity because of religious beliefs, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) or other agency immediately.
Bear in mind that co-workers may never have met a Pagan or Wiccan before, so if they're asking you questions in a friendly way, it might be a good opportunity to educate them. However, if you want to keep religion out of your workplace, offer to meet them some other time -- for coffee or whatever -- and be willing to answer their questions off the job. On the other hand, if someone is leaving little tracts and pamphlets of a religious nature on your desk, you should report this to a supervisor immediately.
What About Sabbats?
Some Pagans and Wiccans take days off for religious holidays -- Yule, Samhain, etc. If your workplace is normally open on these days, you may have to use one of your personal days on these occasions. There are different rules applied to employers in the private sector and to government agencies -- check to see what your company’s policy is on taking time off for religious observations.
Can I Get Fired?
If you are suddenly facing the threat of termination after coming out of the broom closet, despite an excellent work history, you should contact a civil rights attorney who specializes in Pagan and Wiccan discrimination cases.