From car parts makers to fast food chains to financial service companies, corporations across the country are bringing chaplains into the workplace. At most companies, the chaplaincy resembles the military model, which calls for chaplains to serve the religiously diverse community before them, not to evangelize. ...
Workplace chaplaincies are generally less costly to operate than the more familiar employee assistance program model of counseling and making referrals. Most chaplaincies also go beyond such programs to bring something of the local pastor to the workplace: the person who is on call around the clock to rush to the hospital when an employee has been in a car accident, or to find housing for families burned out of their houses, or to visit a worker’s relative in jail, even to officiate at weddings and funerals.
There's a 200+ year history of military chaplains, of course, plus a long traditions of hospital and university chaplains. Bring the chaplaincy concept into a commercial workplace, however, is novel and may present serious legal risks.
As a policy matter, I agree with my friend and UCLA law colleague Eugene Volokh that:
... the government has no business suppressing our ideas, whether religious or political, and whether or not they are “disparaging” (the EEOC’s term), are made “for the purpose of exposing [another religion] to contempt and ridicule” ... or fail to “exhibit adequate sensitivity to [another’s] feelings."
In addition, there likely are substantial management benefits to be had from a workplace chaplain. In the exercise of pastoral functions, a chaplain can serve as a counselor, adviser, and councilor. Likewise, the chaplain can function as an ombudsman intermediating between management and the workforce, just as military chaplains often intermediate between the troops and brass. As Corporate Chaplains of America explains:
Corporate Chaplains of America incorporates a variety of means for caring in the workplace. These include any or all of the following: confidential care giving, crisis intervention, management consultation, programs for worship or prayer, referral to other professionals and agencies, training and education for employees and supervisors, employee/community/church relations and programs, and special events scheduled in response to needs which arise in the workplace. Whatever the scope of each family's problems or concerns, Corporate Chaplains of America has a network of qualified and caring outsource providers that can help.
Indeed, the Christian Science Monitor reports that:
Corporate chaplains serve people of any or no faith, and the use of their services is voluntary. But business leaders increasingly recognize that employees who face crises often can't help bringing their personal difficulties to work, and job performance can suffer. Making provision to care for their workforce becomes a part of good business practice.
One wonders, however, whether Christian corporate chaplains will not inevitably experience a tension between the secular aspects of their job and the Great Commission. As one commentator writes of the analogous concept of hospital chaplains:
the function of the chaplain within the hospital . . . is to relate the dynamic content of the Gospel to the experiences through with men and women pass while they are hospital patients, that they may know its saving grace in the power of God's Holy Spirit.
A corporate chaplain who seeks to relate the Gospel to the experience of the firm's employees, however, risks being accused of proselytizing. In turn, the employer of such a chaplain risks being sued for workplace religious harassment.
As one source explains:
Hostile work environment has been found in such cases where there was a daily broadcast of prayers for a one year period over the employer’s public address system. Or where an employee was subjected to repeated religious lectures about her salvation. ... In addition, the absence of a religious harassment policy is evidence of failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent harassment.
All of which raises some interesting questions:
- From an employer's perspective, do the benefits justify the litigation risks? I haven't found any empirical data, but my guess is that corporate chaplains are far more common in privately help businesses than public ones. My expectation is that the decision to hire a corporate chaplain is often made not on the basis of cost-benefit analysis but rather because the boss is devout (probably tending to be evangelical Protestants). As a result, we might expect corporate chaplains will push the edge of the harassment envelope by proselytizing with implicit or explicit support from the boss.
- From a prospective corporate chaplain's perspective, if one cannot proselytize, is the social aspect of the job an adequate ministry and witness? Will workplace chaplains feel they are falling short of their religious duties if they do not actively evangelize their fellow employees? Here, Catholic chaplains might have an advantage. After all, since we Catholics reject the doctrine of sola fide, practicing a social Gospel is not inconsistent with our faith.
- From a social perspective, should the government be in the business of regulating this sort of practice via employment discrimination law or should the First Amendment free exercise and free speech rights of private employers validate workplace chaplains?