Religion in Business– Challenge of Increasingly Religious Diversity in the Workplace: Touchy Issue, Many Potential Pitfalls…

Religious discrimination in business and in the workplace poses a tough challenge for employers and the courts of law. Religion in business brings some of the most difficult issues employers have to face, and resolving these issues requires understanding the law and balancing the business’s needs with an employee’s desire to practice his or her religion…

Religion and spirituality have more to do with business than most people think; it affects behavior, ethics, attitudes towards work, coworkers, and customers… According to one definition; religion is an organized set of personal or institutionalized attitudes, beliefs,  practices, ceremonies, rules… used to worship a god or group of gods that relate to an order of existence… Many religions have narratives, symbols, and sacred histories that are intended to explain the meaning of life and/or to explain the origin of life or the universe…

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Religion is a very important factor in business, and according to Jeaneen; religion is one of the more frequently mentioned determinants of the moral ethical values that underpin the standard behaviors and practices of a business. Hence, it may seem logical to assume that adherents to a religion is therefore less tolerant of unethical behavior. However, this assumption is often challenged when high-profile CEOs who are highly outspoken about their religious beliefs, practices… but at same time their companies are destroyed by the apparent consequences of unethical business practices…

But, often employers can be placed in ‘no-win’ situations when the religious-based demands of one employee might conflict with religious beliefs or basic rights of others… Religion is very serious business, and employers must balance increasingly complex issues, accommodations, conflicts…

According to Robert E. Gregg; given the number and variety of religions and the freedoms that most people enjoy to express their views, one might think that religion in business should not be difficult issue, but because of increasing religious diversity, discrimination is on the rise and poses tough challenges… In many workplaces there are religious issues that create serious friction, such as; employer and/or employees discussing, even arguing over religious principles or beliefs, or conflicts over various actions that religious people might practice, e.g.; styles of dress, manner of keeping or wearing one’s hair, trying to recruit others to their faith, or certain diets, praying, fasting, avoiding certain language or behavior, or observing religious holidays:

Put simply, there are many characteristics of different religions that provide ample opportunities for disagreement, conflict, even harassment among employers and/or employees…

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It’s the Law: First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides legal boundaries for an individual’s right to free exercise of their chosen religion. In the private sector, the matter of religion is governed by state and federal civil rights laws. The primary statute in this area is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits private employers from discriminating based on; race, color, religion, sex, national origin. Various state laws also prevent discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to make dress code and grooming exceptions for workers who follow religious practices that may not align with company policies…

Employers must provide accommodations to allow employees to honor their religious practices, as long as, it does not create an undue business hardship, e.g.; allowing a Muslim hijab is a religious garb accommodation, or facial hair policies for an individual whose religion requires an uncut beard is a grooming accommodation… Employers may not segregate, retaliate against employees who request or receive religious accommodations.

In general, employers covered by Title VII may only refuse legitimate religious accommodation requests if making the exception negatively affects the workplace, e.g.; security, safety, health… and pose an actual hardship on the business operation. In other cases, denying a religious accommodation is an illegal form of discrimination, and victims of religious discrimination in workplaces have the right to hold their employers responsible…

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In the article Employers Don’t Accommodate Religion in the Workplace by Joyce S. Dubensky writes: A recent national survey released by the ‘Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding’ says; more than one-third (over 33%) of workers report observing or being subjected to religious bias at work… Workplaces are becoming increasingly more religiously diverse, and that’s where people with different beliefs interact on a regular basis. And where there is more religious diversity is typically where you can expect to find more conflict…

Survey results also confirm that a majority of workers believe Muslims are facing discrimination at work, and the Muslim community is not alone… Other groups report being marginalized too, including members of other minority religions and atheists, but that is just part of the story… In fact, the survey shows that workplace discrimination is also a serious issue for many members of the Christian majority: Six in ten evangelical Protestants agree that discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem as discrimination against other religious minorities…

Religion is one key way that people define themselves, and are being harassed at work because of it, or not being allowed to follow basic beliefs, such as; observing a required prayer… Such experiences can affect morale and will ultimately impact a company’s ability to attract talent. If there’s one message from this survey, it’s that religion is a serious business and workplace issue; employers who ignore it, do so at their own risk… Other findings from Tanenbaum’s survey include:

  • Half of non-Christians surveyed believe that their employers are ignoring their religious needs…
  • Employees in companies without religious diversity policies are almost twice as likely to be searching for another job as their counterparts in companies with policies…
  • Among workers at companies where religious bias had been reported to managers or human resources, nearly one-third of workers report that the company took no actions to stop the bias…
  • Nearly six out of 10 atheists (59%) believe that people look down on their beliefs, as do nearly one-third of non-Christian religious workers (31%) and evangelical Protestants (32%)…
  • Atheists (55%) are substantially more likely than workers in any other group to report that they themselves face a lot of discrimination today…

In the article Religion in Business and Workplace is an Issue on the Rise by Hugh G. Willett writes: Statistics by EEOC indicate that complaints of religious harassment in workplaces are on the rise… In fact, according to Rosalind Hackett; religious harassment claims are second only to complaints about sexual harassment; it’s the second most problematic issue in the workplace… Globalization of business and economies combined with a more mobile society have increased diversity in the workplace…

Employees now bring a wider range of personal religious practices to the workplace, for example; different holidays, attire, diet, values and practices can lead to conflict with existing policies or beliefs. It’s an issue many businesses are not prepared to deal with, and most managers believe the way to avoid discrimination charges is to treat everyone in the workplace equally. While this may be possible in a homogeneous environment, often it’s not possible in the modern diverse workplace… Sometimes treating everyone equally means treating some people differently…

While it might be discrimination to not hire such an employee, courts have ruled that it’s acceptable to ask such employees to work in a part of the business where their attire would not, for example; effect interaction with customers… Employers have a duty of reasonable accommodation for their employees’ religious habits. Employers can refuse such accommodations if they were to put an undue burden on their businesses. This would include any loss of revenue to the business…

Reasonable accommodation also might include, a compromise that meets the needs of both parties… One problematic issues is the difference between beliefs and practices… While the notion that people are allowed to believe what they want is accepted, conflict can occur when a person tries to practice a religion that isn’t mainstream…

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Employers need to recognize that there is no clear definition of extreme behavior when trying to strike a balance… In some workplaces there is no clear separation of the corporate mission from religious beliefs, since religion is more than just worship and ritual… Within the holy books of every major religion are bedrock moral precepts and principles prescribing how true believers are to live their lives, and these beliefs might be in direct conflict with the mission of a business, for example; there might be references to– honesty, justice, fidelity, compassion, charity… and they leave no doubt about the role of ethics and personal virtue for both employer and employees at work…

According to Michael Josephson; the ancient truths and enduring values embodied in traditional religions are more than guidelines or suggestions about how to behave. To those who profess religious belief, moral and ethical behavior is not an option, it’s a mandate… These moral obligations are intrinsic to one’s beliefs and they apply to every decision business executives and employees must make…

According to Gina Ruiz; one way to mitigate risk is by establishing what one expert calls a ‘faith-friendly’ organization… Faith-friendly organizations go beyond just adhering to relevant laws on religious discrimination… These companies take into consideration the specific needs and sensitivities of many practices, including those that are outside of the traditional Christian-Jewish canons, encompassing, e.g.; Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other traditions that employees from all over the world are bringing to the workplace. The most frequently cited problems are related to a failure of employers to provide sufficient accommodations for believers, especially non-Christians…

According to Kate McFarlin; religious diversity in the workplace can bring a company many benefits in the form of different viewpoints. Managing religious diversity in the workplace, however, can be challenging… Tolerance and acceptance of different religious views in business is vital, as well as, being able to accommodate those who need extra time off or may have special needs that are dictated by their religious preference. By establishing a few guidelines and accommodations it’s possible to have a business and workplace that is enriched by its religious diversity…