How Would You Handle a Company Chaplain?

An article in the Charlotte Observer by John Murawski talks about the increased use of Christian chaplains in the workplace.

Is it legal? According to the law experts cited in the piece, yes, with certain precautions.

Corporate chaplains are an increasing presence in American workplaces — about 4,000 of them minister to workers nationwide, mostly in Southern states. But the ministers typically work for an outside agency and visit their assigned companies just a few days a month, said Mark Cress, president of Corporate Chaplains of America, an agency based in Wake Forest, outside Raleigh, with 115 chaplains.

The chaplains provide a benefit for those employees who feel more comfortable discussing personal issues with a minister.

“We don’t do Bible studies or prayer meetings in workplaces,” Cress said. “It’s not our job to turn a business into a church. We don’t want employees to think we’re there to beat them over the head with a Bible.”

An Arizona company was vindicated two decades ago in a federal appeals court ruling that set ground rules for workplace ministry, said UNC Chapel Hill law professor Glenn George. The federal court ruled that the private company could require its workers to attend devotional services as long as it paid the workers for the time spent in worship, and as long as an atheist employee was exempted from having to attend.

“The fact that you’re just uncomfortable with a chaplain on-site comes nowhere close to actionable harassment, as long as it’s truly voluntary and there’s no benefit or coercion,” George said.

Let’s assume for the moment everything is legal, and there’s no penalty (stated or not) for refusing the services provided.

How would you handle the situation?

Do you actively speak out against it? Do you just accept that the Chaplain is there and go on with your workday? Do you raise any concerns with your colleagues or bosses? Would you be upset/angry there’s no Humanist Chaplain provided to you?

(Thanks to Deanna for the link!)

  • Paul

    The ‘benefit’ clause is rather odd – the employer must think there’s a benefit, otherwise they wouldn’t be providing it.

    More generally, though, I think I’d make as much use of the chaplain as I possibly could. In work time, of course.

  • http://t3knomanser.livejournal.com t3knomanser

    I wouldn’t protest at all, any more so than I would protest my employer being involved with the United Way (sorry, but I’ve had some serious issues with their organization).

    So long as “if you’d like” means “only if you’d like”, I really couldn’t care less. Private organizations may do whatever they like, so long as it isn’t discriminatory, and a truly voluntary religious thing isn’t discriminatory.

  • Sarah TX.

    Our company brings in a few counselors on a monthly basis, and employees can schedule time with them – the two main ones are a financial planner and a “life coach” who can help get over any work-related stumbling blocks.

    However, both these services are clearly work-related. As my company is not-for-profit, I’d feel uncomfortable if they devoted employee-advancement dollars on a spiritual counselor when that money could go towards reduced-cost flu shots or more training workshops. I would absolutely speak up, but then again I am perhaps in a unique situation.

  • Gabriel

    I am fairly sure that I didn’t get a job 3 years ago because I told the interviewer that I had no interest in attending their morning prayer meetings. When asked why I honestly answered that I was an atheist. The interview wrapped up very quickly. Only a few days earlier they had been very excited to interview me. Oh well, I had been offered a better job the day before and have been very happy here. I wouldn’t care if this company had a chaplin as long as there wasn’t coericion to use him or her.

  • Gordon

    I’d use the chaplain at least once if I wanted to discuss a personal issue with someone at work. Like all collections of people chaplains will have a broad spectrum of capabilities. Some will have lots of useful experience in counseling on personal issues while others will be useless repeaters of biblical nonsense. I’d certainly tell the chaplain that I was an atheist. If I had a personal issue, the opportunity to check and see if the chaplain was worth anything would be no different than the first meeting with any therapist.

    As to a company that requires employees to attend devotional services, that job better have some massive benefits for me to think that I could work there. I can’t quite imagine that an atheist employee would have a promotion path to senior management in that company. Plus the work environment might not be “actionable harassment” even though I can only think that it would be continuous harassment.

  • http://toomanytribbles.blogspot.com/ toomanytribbles

    i’d probably find ways to waste the chaplain’s time. maybe get into a heated discussion over his silly beliefs?

  • CarolAnn :)

    I wouldn’t care one way or the other unless I was being beat over the head with it.

  • Andy

    Speak out about it? Why? Assuming there’s no unwanted proselytizing, and it is there for employees that want it, who cares? A private company is just as free to embrace religion and provide religious services to those employees want it, as you are to deny religion.

  • Luther

    No different than a local plant business I frequent less and less because it has a sign saying it is based on God.

    On the other hand if its a public company, I would encourage my mutual funds to invest elsewhere. Then again if AIG and Citigroup prayed for money from the Government, perhaps it works – better for them than other low integrity business practices.

  • cyn

    I don’t care if there’s a chaplain or not. Some people may find they need help and perhaps this would be an option.

    As long as the workplace didn’t turn into a church and people kept their religious crap away from me, I wouldn’t care.

  • CatBallou

    I’ve always thought that I should be able to reject job applicants who are religious or “spiritual,” because clearly they lack critical thinking skills!
    Religion is a choice, not a (mostly) immutable and irrelevant quality, like country of origin or gender. It shouldn’t be a protected category.

  • mikespeir

    I wouldn’t be uncomfortable in the slightest with a chaplain around. (I have a part time job working at a church!) About the only real objection I might think of–and it’s kinda puny–is that the chaplain would have to be paid, which could raise the price of whatever products it produced or sold a bit. I guess there might also be a problem if hiring a chaplain reflected the company’s attitude that everyone working there was expected to a least give lip service to Christianity (or whichever religion.) Then I might have to object.

  • MrMarkAZ

    I would care for the following reasons:

    #1: Outside contractors cost money. Unless the company can quantify the results, the expenditure is not justified, particularly when the time comes to implement “cost-cutting” measures. Why should my job be jeopardized because the company decided to fly in Benny Hinn for a little “hands-on” motivation?

    #2: Mental health services are (or should be) provided through employee health insurance, not by means of some vague “slush fund.” This creates an extra accounting headache for the employer.

    #3: Unless the company can ensure that the “minister” in question is also a licensed therapist, the company is no more justified in paying for outside ministers than it would be for homeopathic consultants.

    #4: This practice sends a message to the employees that Christians (or religious people) matter more to the company than non-religious persons or non-believers. In my opinion, this is discriminatory behavior.

    I don’t know that I’d complain to HR about it, except during my exit interview to explain why I was switching employers.

  • Richard P

    No different than a local plant business I frequent less and less because it has a sign saying it is based on God.

    I wouldn’t blame you a bit for that. To me that is a sign that says ” prepare to be mounted”. I would drive to the next town to avoid their services, and if I did use them I would stand and watch.

    A far as a company chaplin, I would just ignore it. If someone asked me about it, I would give my opinion, that it is stupid.

    If the chaplin came to talk to me I would, kindly decline, throw in a quip about not believing in flying fairies. Just to ensure he didn’t come looking again.

  • Richard Wade

    This sounds like a religious version of the employee assistance counseling services I used to provide for large companies. The company hired a licensed psychological counselor with an office on site, usually in a secluded part of the property where people could keep an appointment or drop in with confidentiality.

    Sometimes if a worker’s attendance or productivity was dropping and the foreman suspected something was wrong, most often drug or alcohol abuse, he’d send them to me for mandatory counseling sessions. I’d keep the content confidential, reporting to the management only that the employee was attending the mandatory sessions. The boss didn’t want to know the details, he just wanted his employee healthy and back on the job. It was cheaper than firing the guy and having to train a replacement.

    It probably would not work well legally if sessions with a chaplain were made mandatory, but I see no problem with providing an optional service if people are more comfortable talking with a preacher instead of a shrink.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    I’d look for another job and cite the religious interference with work as a primary reason for leaving. Religion should be a personal matter. It is nothing to do with the state or with an employer and it is wrong that they provide any kind of religious service.

  • Deanna

    I notice that several people in the comments have stated that a chaplain would be okay at a “private” company; however the company mentioned in the Charlotte Observer article is a publicly traded company.

    At the newspaper’s website, it lists the following companies with chaplains on the payroll:

    Corporate chaplains have been ministering to employees for years. Here’s a sampling of companies in the Charlotte area that offer chaplains to their workers:

    •Ameritech Die & Mold

    •Bonded Logistics

    •Central Piedmont Community College

    •Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated

    •Comfort Systems USA

    •Custom Pallet

    •Edifice General Contractors

    •Estes Express Lines

    •G&P Trucking

    •Grayson O. Group

    •Overhead Door Co. of Charlotte

    •Parks Heating & Air Conditioning

    •Precision Plumbing

    •Southeastern Freight Lines

    •Stone Truck Parts

    •Teeberry Logistics

    Source: Corporate Chaplains of America

  • James

    Honestly, if I was getting paid for it, I’d probably go and take an ipod or play on Twitter. If I could not go and still get paid, that would be even better.

  • http://yrif.org Joel

    I’d actually be angrier if a “humanist chaplain” were provided. Talk about demeaning!

    (I can’t actually imagine what “humanist chaplain” would be/do, but I can guarantee that whatever it is I want no part of it.)

  • Calladus

    It would depend on what was required of me from the company.

    If I were expected to attend services I’d try to get out of them, or bring my MP3 player. Worse, I’d probably hand out “Get Out of Hell, Free” cards and explain how they seem to work just as well.

    If I weren’t required to attend services, then depending on the chaplain, I might enjoy talking to him or her, or I might shun the person entirely.

  • The Other Tom

    I would take it as a sign that the company has an official religion and would value my services less than a religious person with equivalent skills. I would therefore start looking for a new job.

    I might also quietly complain to HR, stating my concern that this seems to be an expression that the company now has an official religion and my concern that I might be mistreated or passed over for promotions or raises because I am not a member of this religion. (I would not specify that I am an atheist. My beliefs or lack thereof are none of the employer’s business. I would simply state I’m not a member of that religion.) If the chaplain is, as described above, christian, I would also state my concern that I might be discriminated against by the company because I am gay and many christians interpret their religion as being opposed to gay people.

    I would make sure to keep a copy of this communication to HR at home. Should I be in any way mistreated by the company afterward, I would file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination stating my belief that I may have been discriminated against on the grounds of religion for not conforming to the company’s official religion or on the basis of sexual orientation because of opposition from the company’s official religion, and I would provide to them a copy of my prior complaint to HR to demonstrate that this was a sincere concern and that I had properly expressed my concern to the employer.

    It may not legally constitute *harassment* for an employer to have a company chaplain, but it *may* constitute evidence of intent to discriminate.

    What I would expect to get out of this would be two things: 1) The company might realize that their having a chaplain offends their employees and creates liability for them, and discontinue the practice. 2) I would be covering my behind: If I recall correctly, an employer is presumed to be at fault if they take any action at all against an employee within a certain time period of an employee complaint regarding discrimination. So, they would know that I won’t put up with mistreatment, and that they’d better continue to employ me on good terms for at least that duration. (I’m used to being mistreated by employers, so something that can help keep them in their place is a good thing.)

  • Alec

    I don’t think I would condone such activity in a workplace. They say it’s completely voluntary, but they forget, that those who decide to go, those that are Christians will start to feel that it is acceptable to make their beliefs ‘heard’ in the workplace, or more conveniently (for them) in your ear. Having a company chaplain in the workplace is fine, until the workplace is made into a church by the people going to see the devotionals by the chaplain; start to believe the workplace is a church, and thus start singing catchy tunes about how your going to go to hell while assembling parts, making copies, or dealing with customers.

  • http://www.raywhiting.com/MyLife Raytheist

    I would be more concerned if I were expected to take up the slack while a co-worker went to visit the on-site chaplain during work hours.

    If the chaplain were a resource made available to employees for their lunch break or after-hours, I’d consider it a side benefit similar to the boss providing donuts on Fridays (free to take or leave) or built a gym into the back room, which not everyone would use.

  • Siamang

    It would depend on the overall tone of the workplace. I wouldn’t like to work in a hyperreligious atmosphere, mostly because I think it makes for a distraction from work, and ill-feelings.

    But then again, I’ve done volunteer work with organizations where many of the people there were religious, and their daily starting morning prayer wasn’t bothersome, nor intrusive or pushy on those who were already hard at work for the day.

  • Jonas

    Couple of issues spring to mind: Do you have to identify as an Atheist to be exempt, or will they also exempt all other non-christians. (Jews etc). How much training does the Christian Chaplain have as a counselor – will it vary by denomination?
    — Goes to ‘what exactly is the benefit’ of the program, will religious morals interfere with humanistic morals?
    — For instance I’d feel uncomfortable with a Catholic Priest, due to their objection to homosexuality, abortion, and birth control – or that is the official position of the church being that.

  • Erp

    I should point out that Harvard has a humanist chaplain, Greg Epstein, among others (though some are not paid for by the university). Is a university chaplain different from a company chaplain? If so, how?

  • justanotherjones

    I would not object to a chaplain being available for counseling for those who felt they needed it. I would hope that this person had a mental health background and would know when someone needed help outside his/her scope

    I would strenuously object to religious services being held on company time, or even sponsored by the company even if they are not on company time or property.

  • Jen

    When I was in the dorm, we had a chaplain who I paid exactly zero attention to. In a work situation, I would probably do the same, unless we got paid to talk to them, in which case I would simply visit him/her as often as possible, probably with made-up problems, or at least long dreams I may or may not be making up as we go.

  • Todd

    Living in a “work at will” state, the arrival of a corporate chaplain at my place of employment would be a sure sign that I was about to be fired.

  • http://www.anthonyrmiller.com/blog Tony

    I would expect my boss not to jump my ass because the department didn’t meet it’s deadline because the other three guys were off to see the chaplain when he showed up and I was left to carry the load.

  • Steve

    The company I work for at the moment offers a quite room for its Muslim employees to pray and I have worked for another company that ran a similar service to the one described in the article. On the one occasion I was approached by the Chaplin I politely declined and was not approached again.

    Provided the service is voluntary and does not impinge on my work life I have no issues.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    I agree with the general sentiments here. If the chaplain was entirely optional then i don’t see a problem with it. In general.

    Since i work for Her Majesty’s Government , i’d be pretty pissed if MY company hired a chaplain. Government taxes shouldn’t be used to fund religious groups, even in a state with an official state religion like the UK.

    So assuming a private company, assuming its entirely optional, go for it. I might even try him out to see what he is like for atheists. If they provided a priest but not a counsellor i’d probably mention to management that they might want to reverse that, or hire a preacher with a counselling background that is capable of secular counselling.

    When my grandmother died, the priest conducting the funeral gave me some really good advice and gave a very good service, using exactly as much religion as was appropriate for a moderately believing old lady. Since the priest was an old family friend, he knew i was an atheist and respected it. He didn’t mention god one time to me but from his perspective was doing his duty by easing my pain and helping my family. Thats the kind of counselling i’d accept from a priest. But its also the kind that a secualar counsellor could provide.

  • Kaylya

    I think it’s possible for it to be done unobtrusively and being simply a service that’s available without being pushed or otherwise promoting a religious environment, and even in such a way that the chaplain can provide “someone to talk to” for a non-believer.

    My (limited) experience with chaplain types is that they tend to be easily approachable and not the sort to ram religion down one’s throat.

    In terms of tax dollars paying for chaplains – there’s lots of them in most militaries.

    Here’s the website for Marketplace Chaplains, definitely says they won’t force conversations with employees, prosletyze, or promote any specific religious group.

  • http://universalheretic.wordpress.com/ Victor

    These Christians sure do seem to be rather fragile, needing to have spiritual guidance every minute of every day.

  • muggle

    I think this is a scary trend and does open up the door for discrimination. If I sound paranoid, well, I’ve been harrassed at a government job for being openly Atheist. On the State level, not the Federal, but still…

    Frankly, I think if a company does get a chaplain, it does show an intent or, at the very least, a desire for its employees to be at least nominally Christian so I would, as others have stated, start job hunting immediately.

    But the reason I say it’s a disturbing trend is what are the options when they all or the bulk get a chaplain? Walmart’s has had an undesirable influence on employment in this country and if the thing becomes popular — as it apparently is becoming in the South — what’s the option, put up or be unemployed? Then stick out like a sore thumb if you avoid the chaplain?

    We’ll soon be left with the only recourse to protest are the suggestions here to make use of the chaplain and waste its time and get paid for doing so. Actually, that’s not a bad idea now as a form of protest. But instead of telling said chaplain your Atheist inundate him with bringing him all your troubles (or made up dreams, I like that one, Jen). After all, you can’t trust him not to be a company spy.

    Also, I think any of us who find ourselves in that situation would be very wise to keep The Other Tom’s advice in mind.

    Frankly, it’s totally unnecessary. Why can they not just go to their church for spritual guidance. One should question why an employer would spend on something so unnnecessary.

  • Flah

    I would be shocked if my multi-national, multi-ethnic, super-diverse company did anything so narrow — the quagmire they would create would be mindboggling, but fun to watch. However, I would like to point you to a piece I heard recently on NPR about the head chaplain at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport (google it or go to npr.org). Here’s a guy that is simply trying to do the most good he can in a situation that all too often can become abundantly stressful. Makes me feel more hopeful about christianity, when so often I feel embarrassed.

  • http://blog.rrchapman.us Bob Chapman

    You’ve all added something to this that wasn’t there in the original: Christian. Or, you all think that there can’t be a humanist chaplain.

    A chaplain deals with matters of the spirit, not necessarily religion. While typically “endorsed” or ordained, a chaplain does not have to be.

    I know hospital chaplains that make it clear that religion does not enter into the services they provide to people in hospitals. A chaplain is there to help you work through matters to your satisfaction, not to the chaplain’s personal satisfaction.

    They can be a source of information. They can be a listening ear. They can be an advocate for a person.

    A chaplain is never there to proselytize.

    Ultimately, chaplains are like abortions. If you don’t want one, don’t have one. It is a personal decision.

  • muggle

    Bob Chapman, tell that to the chaplain of the hospital I had an operation in six years ago.

    Even though I’d put Atheist as my religion and stated no I did not desire chaplain services both on the form and verbally, he walked unannounced into my room.

    First night, I told him in no uncertain language to take a hike. Meaning I wasn’t ladylike and I was obscene. Frankly, that’s what it took to get rid of the asshole.

    Second night, he came back, I asked him if he was crazy or just did not respect me? And again cussed him out until he turned tail and ran. Then I went out to the nurse’s station and raised hell. I was left alone for the rest of my six week stay. But I suspect this was because the nurse on duty evenings when he came around bothering people was a very nice lady and kept an eye out after I brougt it to her attention.

    Frankly, he shouldn’t even have been able to invade my privacy like that unless I requested his service!

    Maybe you’ve been lucky with the chaplains you’ve had and I don’t doubt some are good guys but they’ve no place in the work place. Professional counselors, employee assistance programs, I can see. But a chaplain of any denomination, including humanist, is out of line unless the employer is a religious organization.

  • muggle2

    I believe that having a chaplain in the workplace can create a clickish environment and will eventually create additional divisions within the organization. They really don’t belong in the workplace.


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