A New York based company, United Health Programs of America and its parent company Cost Containment Group, are in hot water after a series of complaints filed with the federal government by employees claiming religious discrimination. The company is charged with requiring all employees to adhere to the “Onionhead Doctrine.” The Onionhead Doctrine is not a mainstream religion, but rather a “way of living” created by the aunt of the company’s owner. So what is an Onionhead? The Harnessing Happiness Foundation, creators of the Onionhead Doctrine, describe the doctrine as follows:
“It is not what is Onionhead – it is who is Onionhead? Onionhead is this incredibly pure, wise and adorable character who teaches us how to name it — claim it — tame it — aim it. Onion spelled backwards is ‘no-i-no’. He wants everyone to know how they feel and then know what to do with those feelings. He helps us direct our emotions in a truthful and compassionate way.”
The United Health Programs of America interpreted a few key principles from the philosophy that they felt all employees should follow. According to Reuters, employees were made to say, “I love you”, to other colleagues and managers at work. The official press release issued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that employees were also forced to participate in prayer together as a unit, discuss spiritual contexts, do candle burning ceremonies, and “Thank God” for their jobs while at work. According to the EEOC, such practices are a clear example of religious discrimination.
The Onionhead Doctrine has been in use at the company since 2007. Employees said that in addition to the above mentioned religious activities within the company, employees were also punished if they did not participate or spoke out against the policies.
In one such incident, an IT Account Manager for the company claims she was harassed and ultimately fired over her opposition to the Onionhead Doctrine. She spoke out during a company meeting against the policies and said she did not feel comfortable participating in these events due to the fact she was Catholic. A month after the confrontation, she claims the company moved her from her private office to an open customer service area and placed a large statue of Buddha in her office. She objected and was subsequently fired.
The senior trial attorney from the EEOC, Sanu Chandy said:
“While religious or spiritual practices may indeed provide comfort and community to many people, it is critical to be aware that federal law prohibits employers from coercing employees to take part in them.”
The United Health Programs of America has yet to release a statement in regards to the religious discrimination suit or their Onionhead Doctrine policies.