A New York health care company is being sued for allegedly forcing workers to participate in a religion called “Onionhead,” which requires workers "to thank God for their employment" and to tell their managers "I love you.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that workers who refused or spoke up against the practice were retaliated against or fired, according to the suit filed in federal court.
The EEOC is representing three female workers in the discrimination lawsuit against United Health Programs of America and its parent company, the Cost Containment Group of Sayosset.
The women say they were required to follow a "belief system" of "Harnessing Happiness," more commonly referred to as "Onionhead.'"
They burned candles and kept lights dim in the office. They were allegedly compelled to discuss personal matters with colleagues and read spiritual texts. Employees were instructed to wear Onionhead buttons and place Onionhead cards on their desks, according to the lawsuit.
The “religion” was created by a family member of the company owner. The website HarnessingHappiness.org explains:
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. Which in turn assists us to communicate more appropriately and peacefully. In turn, we then approach life from a place of our wellness rather than a place of our wounds.
His motto is: peel it - feel it - heal it
One plaintiff says she was fired for refusing to participate in “spiritual activity” at work. The two other plaintiffs were fired for refusing to participate in prayers. Some workers were allegedly fired when they refused to help with efforts to fundraise for the Onionhead faith.
"Aggrieved individuals were forced to participate in the above-described religious practices against their will and some were forced into involuntary resignation as the only way to avoid taking part in those practices," the lawsuit states.
The federal agency is asking a judge to stop the forced religious practice and secure back pay and other compensation for employees.
The companies said in a statement that they are "caring, family-oriented businesses" and called the complaint "meritless."