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Religion in the Work Environment

written by: •edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 10/10/2010

What’s the best way to deal with the various religions in the work environment? As an HR manager or business owner, you can’t play favorites on the more popular religious holidays, so what can you do? A diverse workplace is a good workplace so learn here how to respect everyone’s beliefs.

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    Look at Your Religious Diversity

    Accept All Religions If your company is like mine, you probably employ people from all religious beliefs; all with different traditions and customs. In New Mexico at my car dealership, I have Native Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Protestants, Jewish, and Mormon faiths.

    In most employee handbooks that set the paid holidays, Christmas is almost always a paid holiday--but what if you have employees who are Jewish or those of the Buddhist or Mormon faith? What about Native American holidays that occur throughout the year and require that certain apparel is worn along with time off?

    While you can’t allow week after week of paid time off, there are some things you can do to help deal with religion in the work environment.

    Religion in the work environment doesn’t consist of just days off, either. Certain religions seem to clash and so can co-workers who have different beliefs. Below are some tips on how to deal with your religious diversity so everyone is at ease.

    Image Credit (Morgue File)

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    Don’t Forget the First Amendment

    In the United States, all citizens are given the right under the First Amendment to practice the religion of their choice. As an employer you can’t even ask a person’s religious preference during the interview or hiring process, and you don’t want to fall victim to discrimination in the workplace if you don’t agree with a person’s religious preference. Going further, a person who singularly practices a religion not common among other workers can’t be placed into a hostile work environment.

    If you allow harassment to occur from one religious belief to another on a constant basis, you could find yourself in an employee lawsuit you probably won’t win. Further, employees who feel they are being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs do and will seek out legal help or the assistance of agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and there will be an investigation.

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    Keeping it Fair

    Keep it Equal If you employ a person of a certain religion where Saturdays are a holy day, it’s probably easy for you to have that person change shifts with someone who doesn’t practice the same religion. However, if an employee wants to celebrate a religious event for an entire month, that’s going above and beyond, and you don’t have to comply with that request.

    While the holiday of Christmas is almost always a paid day off, if you employ someone that wants a day off that is similar to that of Christmas, you should allow it to avoid discrimination complaints. Consider the non-Christmas celebrator as a person who may work on Christmas day and keep your business operating. Be fair when considering time off but don’t allow your diverse employees to run your business. You can always contact the EEOC and ask specific questions if you’re unsure. The EEOC offers a “find your closest office" from their website to help you find answers to questions on religion in the work environment.

    Image Credit (Wikimedia Commons)

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    Hostile Environments

    In any business, you may employ someone who doesn’t agree with certain practices or beliefs based on their religion. These are where job descriptions come in very handy and should be reviewed thoroughly with a new employee. For example, if you were a soda pop distributor and your highest selling product was cola and an employee’s religion disallowed cola, he may be unwilling to sell that product. Is this cause for termination? According to the EEOC it is, because their failure to sell your largest-selling product will hamper your success.

    On the other side of that coin, if the new employee is someone you want, discuss where they’ll fit in based on religious beliefs.

    A hostile work environment can also come from co-workers that taunt or cause workplace bullying because they disagree with another co-worker's religious preferences. You simply can’t allow this on any level. If you terminate the taunted employee, expect a lawsuit and a visit from the EEOC. Employ a workplace bullying policy that discusses religious preferences.

    Please continue to Page 2 to read more on religion in the work environment including how to follow the rules and when the belief is the problem.

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    Dealing with religion in the work environment also means that an employee can be the offender. Find out how to deal with religious diversity in the workplace along with where to get answers and why a diverse work environment is one you should consider to succeed. Is it legal to terminate an individual due to his religious beliefs?
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    Agree to Disagree

    Allow Dress by Religion When looking at religion in the work environment, some religions require certain hair lengths, facial hair, and apparel you or your employees may not agree with. Most likely the reason they don’t agree with these distinctions is because they simply don’t understand them.

    In cases such as these, agree to disagree. Allow the hair and apparel as long as it’s not offensive to your customers, such as not bathing or skimpy clothing. In fact, in my car dealership, the Native Americans who wear a form of an apron for periods of time during religious events don’t cause a fuss but more of an interest that can spawn informative conversation between employees—even customers. Think of this diversity as a good thing and agree to disagree or agree to learn, for that matter. Enforce this with employees who simply don’t understand.

    Image Credit (Morgue File)

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    When the Belief is the Problem

    Remember the man who was fired for wearing a button that read, “"One nation under God, indivisible?" While the man fought for his right to wear this button, the company that performed the firing felt by his wearing it, the man was forcing his religion on co-workers and customers. In fact, they did suggest he wear a button that read “United We Stand" instead, but the man refused.

    Think compromise here. As an employer, you can’t allow your workers on any level to force their personal beliefs upon others. This, too, can be considered a type of hostile work environment. Just as you can’t discriminate against a person’s religion, nor can the employee preach or force his beliefs on others. Religion can be a fine line, however, because an employee who never presses his religion on others yet reads a bible on breaks is indeed following the rules as long as he doesn't suggest or force his knowledge on others of different faiths.

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    Following the Rules

    The EEOC offers a handy compliance manual when it comes to a diverse religious workplace. Take time to read this handbook so you ensure you are following the rules on religion in the work environment.

    You can also consult a labor law attorney or your local Department of Labor for general questions on how to deal with a diverse religious office.

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    Diversity Is Here to Stay

    Diversity The melting pot we call America is growing when it comes to religious diversity. You may have some employees that are simply too old school to follow along or have been raised to believe a certain belief or religion is wrong.

    As a business owner or HR manager, you need to take a close look at these old hats and consider their value. Diversity on its own, without considering religion, offers a chance for you, your employees, and your company to grow by sharing knowledge. You won’t reap the rewards of diversity if you allow the opinionated within your organization to rule.

    Howard Hughes once said, “I am a corporation and corporations have no feelings." Perhaps those corporate bylaws that sit on your shelf have no feelings but you can bet the farm your employees and customers do. Consider diversity a blessing and use common sense when granting time off or allowing certain attire or apparel, and stress to your employees that their individual religious beliefs will not be disgraced, nor should they be the most important part of their workday. Religion in the work environment is here to stay so embrace it and use a level head when dealing with offenders, even if the offender is you.

    Image Credit (Morgue File)

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    Resources

    Religion in the Workplace: Employee Rights Center - (http://employment.findlaw.com/employment/employment-employee-discrimination-harassment/employment-employee-religion-discrimination-top/employment-employee-religion-workplace(1).html) – Accessed 10/7/10.