Misleading ABA Guide to Workplace Law

Misleading ABA Guide to Workplace Law

The American Bar Association says that its Guide to Workplace Law (2nd ed., 2006) is “the most comprehensive guide of its kind” and “essential reading for anyone who wants to know their legal rights and responsibilities in the workplace.” But the book is entirely misleading for faith-based organizations—surely a major audience of employers.

The book purports to be a standard guide for employers and employees, with important information on discrimination laws as well as contracts and other job matters. But it is misleading and unhelpful for faith-based employers.

Why misleading? Because it is only in a brief paragraph tucked away in an appendix that the book acknowledges that religious organizations are free to consider religion when hiring and firing. The rest of the book details how employers are prohibited from engaging in religious job discrimination–but without stressing that the prohibition applies only to secular employers!

The book says, for example, that “A requirement that a job applicant be of a specific gender, national origin, religion, or age will almost always violate both federal and state anti-discrimination laws.” Yet if the employer is a religious organization, then it is not a violation of the law for it to specify that “a job applicant be of a specific . . . religion.” That’s because federal and state law protects the ability of religious organizations to select employees based on religion–a vital freedom if they are to preserve their religious identity and faith-based standards.

The ABA book is fine as a Guide to Workplace Law for Secular Employers. Religious employers must read it with extreme caution. If they simply follow its guidance, they are likely to end up as secular employers themselves.

Religious employers would do well to read The Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations to Staff on a Religious Basis (PDF), by Carl Esbeck, Stanley Carlson-Thies, and Ron Sider (Center for Public Justice, 2004). It isn’t an equivalent handbook, but at least it is accurate on the key issue of religious employment by religious employers.