NEW LAW: Portland, Oregon Defends “Non-Believers”

The Portland City Code, chapter 23.01, currently prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, marital status, familial status, national origin, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or source of income.

However, an amendment recently approved by the Portland City Council, which will take effect on March 29, 2019, will consider non-religious, atheists, agnostics, and non-believers as a recognized protected class.

Portland is not the first city to make this change. Madison, Wisconsin, has also designated non-believers as a protected class.

Once the ordinance goes into effect, employees will be able to file complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, against employers who make adverse employment decisions, based on an applicant’s or employee’s non-belief in God.

The city ordinance includes an exemption for churches, temples and other religious facilities.

How does this affect the workplace?

By now, most employers know that questions about religious belief during the interview should never be asked, and certainly should not be a basis to deny employment. But what if you start a prayer group during lunch, bible study on weekends or ask employees if their kids are going to a religious-affiliated summer camp?

Are you exposing the company to a possible discrimination claim? Under this city ordinance — possibly.

A non-believer could allege that refusing to participate in these activities, could lead to adverse employment actions, such as not getting a promotion or raise, or being treated differently (ostracized from the group) than everyone else.