Employee Health and Wellness
July 20, 2021
Federal law requires organizations to provide employees with a safe workplace environment to practice their religion. Additionally, an inclusive workplace where employees can express their religion, spirituality and beliefs creates a more fulfilling work experience and improves job satisfaction, morale and engagement.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious, ethical and moral beliefs or practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Examples of modifications to workplace practices, policies or procedures include:
- Granting employee leave for religious observances
- Flexible work schedules
- Providing a time and place to pray
- Making exceptions to dress codes and grooming standards and
- Honoring dietary requirements
Title VII also protects employees from discrimination and harassment. The law prohibits activities that require or coerce employees to abandon, alter or adopt a religious practice as a condition of employment, as well as unwelcome remarks or conduct based on religion. Employees who profess to have no religious beliefs are also protected from discrimination and harassment under Title VII.
Failure to comply can have costly consequences to organizations. Employers could pay up to $300,000 to settle religious charges brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In fiscal year 2019, the EEOC reported that organizations paid $9.9 million to settle religion-based charges of discrimination.
Regular training can create an inclusive and psychologically safe workplace where people feel confident that they will not be treated negatively for expressing their faith. Managers, in particular, play an important role in fostering a respectful and inclusive environment.
These 6 steps support religious diversity in the workplace:
- Acknowledge religious practices
Include major religious and cultural holidays on a calendar to help set work schedules. Be mindful of these dates when planning meetings or events and raise team awareness of upcoming faith-related events.
- Grant time off to employees for religious reasons
Be flexible with religions that require worship at specific times. For instance, managers can allow employees to use their lunch break for worship even if it is ordinarily at a different time. Also, allow employees to use personal paid or unpaid leave for religious holidays.
- Welcome attire and grooming tied to religious beliefs
Sincerely held religious practices, such as wearing a beard, hijab or turban, are protected by law. Accommodate religious attire and other symbols when there are no health and safety risks involved for the employee or co-workers.
- Provide a multifaith prayer room during working hours
Accommodate the spiritual needs of employees by having a quiet room for the purposes of prayer, meditation and private reflection.
- Offer meal and drink options
Consider dietary requirements of employees during lunch meetings and events. Include kosher, halal, and vegetarian options. For those who are fasting, offer take-out containers. Provide other drink options at parties for those who abstain from alcohol.
- Create an interfaith employee resource group
Creating an employee resource group (ERG) that focuses on interfaith dialog provides a supportive environment for employees to share and learn about varied religious identities.
Organizations provide a more fulfilling experience for employees when they support the practice of religion, spirituality and beliefs at work. Regular training on how to accommodate religious expression reduces the risk of discrimination and harassment claims and fosters a respectful, diverse workplace in which employees can be successful in their jobs without compromising their religious beliefs − and without causing undue hardship to the organization.