Religious Email: Employee can’t reference God in email signature

(WSVN) - If you are religious, you may say “God bless you,” or in an email or letter, say “blessings.” But can you say or write that at work? One man was told no, so he dialed up Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser to see if his company could stop him.

Derek Diaz will never forget the feeling.

Derek Diaz: “It was a Christmas service. I was on my knees bawling, crying.”

Derek says, at that moment, he accepted Jesus Christ and became a born-again Christian.

Derek Diaz: “I felt, to be called to be baptized that night, I’m a Christian, I’m a Christ follower. I found God at 23.”

Now Derek likes to share his message about God — whether it’s planning to help start a church, something simple like saying “God bless you” when someone sneezes, or a message in his emails.

Derek Diaz: “So me adding ‘God bless you’ to my email signature line, it really is, in a subtle way, letting people know I was there for them. I was hoping that they do well, that I was encouraging to do better.”

Derek is an assistant branch manager at a South Florida bank, and every email contained the words “God bless you.”

Derek Diaz: “My area president at the time was a Christian follower, and he had that in his email signature line. I thought no issues with it.”

Then his bank was bought by another financial institution, and Derek sent a mass email to the division president and all the managers closing with his signature line, “God bless you.”

Derek Diaz: “Within 10 minutes of that material being sent, my branch manager came up to me and had a discussion that it was best I remove the signature line.”

Derek did as he was told and removed God from his signature.

Derek Diaz: “I changed it to ‘many blessings’ from ‘God bless you.’ ‘Many blessings’ was now my new signature line.”

But not for long, because he was told “many blessings” wasn’t allowed either.

Derek Diaz: “My human resources department has told me that my email is not my email, and that they are making efforts to uniform the entire email for the bank.”

Meaning Derek’s signature should not say anything about God or blessings — just his name, title and phone number.

Derek Diaz: “I don’t believe that it is unprofessional to have ‘many blessings’ on your signature line. If anything, it’s a form of encouragement.”

Derek says he could not find the bank’s policy that mentioned email signatures, but he took the words out. And if his decision to talk about this were to cost him his job, he told us, so be it.

Derek Diaz: “I want them to take from this that, if they let me go, that I stood up for something bigger than my job, that my faith is bigger than my position, and that my God that I serve means more to me than my paycheck.”

Well, Howard, can your company tell you how to sign your emails and stop you from saying “God bless you?”

Howard Finkelstein: “Anytime you bring God into the law, it gets very complicated. A private employee has a right to express themselves. They can probably say ‘God bless you’ to customers, but an employer has a right to uniformity in the workplace and not to be saddled with an employee’s beliefs. An email signature is more permanent than words, and gives the impression the message is approved by the company. Therefore, the boss can control an email signature and stop Derek from writing ‘God bless you’ in his emails.”

We contacted the Bank of Ozarks that took over the bank where Derek works.

They told us they recognize and value the importance of each employee’s personal beliefs and religious expression. However, they have long-standing policies on uniformity in the workplace on matters such as personal appearance, office appearance and email signatures.

Derek says he was not aware of that, but we were told, “Not all of our new team members were familiar with our long-standing policy.”

Howard Finkelstein: “A quick note on government employees, because the constitution requires separation of church and state: A government employer can absolutely tell his employees there will be no religious expressions at all in written communications.”

Derek Diaz: “I will be respectful and abide by what has been already rolled out, but God is doing a lot of big things.”

Derek can’t tell people “God bless you” in his emails, and when you look at him, you can tell he is not happy about it.

Derek Diaz: “This was an easy way for an organization, a for-profit company, to silence me, and it hurts, and I don’t expect many people to stand up like this.”

Now, Howard said anytime you bring God into the law, it’s complicated. And those laws are constantly changing, meaning what’s not allowed today may be allowed tomorrow.

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CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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