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Create a Workplace Policy for Religion

April 19, 2005View for printing

"Avoid talking about religion and politics" is a lesson we've all been taught to keep in mind in social situations. While politics has crept its way back into the workplace, religion is still one on which we remain careful.

by Charles McConnell

But spirituality in the workplace is on the rise. A November 1999 "Business Week" cover story titled "Religion in the Workplace" cited the growing presence of spirituality in corporate America, with major corporate executives meeting for prayer breakfasts and spiritual conferences. It also reported religious study and prayer groups meet regularly in various workplaces.

As religion makes its place in the workplace, it is important to consider the forces behind this increase, which include the continuing globalization of business, shifting patterns of immigration, increasing cultural diversity and a renewed spiritual awakening in some segments of the population. You should also take a look at your workplace and make sure that it is properly equipped to accommodate the varying religious preferences of your employees.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion, and further calls for reasonable accommodation of employees' religious practices unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer. Many of the complaints filed involve questions of accommodation; "undue hardship" is often interpreted as anything from minor inconvenience to true hardship. However, many practical accommodations require no more than workable schedule changes for employees to attend religious services or brief blocks of time for observing religious practices.

Concerning company-sponsored spiritual events, it's necessary to ensure that all employees receive equal treatment. That is, attendance at such events is wholly voluntary; those who attend receive no special consideration for doing so, and those who decline participation are not penalized in any way.

Every company should have a written policy concerning religion in the workplace. An excellent model for such a policy is the "Guidelines on Freedom of Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace" issued by the White House in 1997. With or without a formal policy, however, there are some important considerations to be observed concerning employees'religious practices:

*Individual observances must not disrupt normal activities or impinge upon the rights of others

*No one must suffer harassment because of one's religious beliefs or practices

*No attempt should be made to convert others to one's own religious beliefs

*Company officials should not sanction one set of religious beliefs over another

*Complaints of harassment or discrimination based on religion should be promptly investigated and resolved

Remember, it is illegal to ask questions about religious preference during the employment process.

It is a virtual certainty that as workplace diversity increases so will the necessity to focus on religion and religious observances. Make your company a safe place for your employees when it comes to their religious beliefs and practices.

Read the Guidelines on Freedom of Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace: ... 9-3275.html

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Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. Full copyright retained by the original publication. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

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