Religious Diversity in the Workplace

The issue of religious diversity in the workplace is becoming a fact of life, as people of different traditions are working more closely together. The question of how to adjust to a workplace that is based on a religious tradition that is not one’s own can have its own answer depending on the individual person. Respecting each employee’s beliefs shows that both their coworkers and superiors understand the importance of that practice to the person. If people feel that they are respected, they are more likely to extend the same respect to their fellows, and this would create a more harmonious work environment.

The expression of religious beliefs forms a major part of individual identity, and as such should be respected because to do otherwise would be discriminatory. Finding ways in which this can be done in increasingly diverse workplaces is a major topic in the area of management. There has been academic research on this topic, such as the idea of “whole person,” which captures the fact that all aspects of the person’s identity should be brought to the workplace, just as they are in other areas of life.

Recent court cases such as the case of Samantha Elauf, which was judged in her favor by the U.S Supreme Court, highlight the importance of accommodation of religious belief in the workplace. Elauf argued that Abercrombie and Fitch’s rules stated that only certain items were allowed, and that workers had to adhere to a strict dress code as part of promoting the Abercrombie brand, which was discriminatory. Adam Liptak of the New York Times wrote:

“The company, he [Justice Scalia] said, at least suspected that the applicant, Samantha Elauf, wore the head scarf for religious reasons. The company’s decision not to hire her, Justice Scalia said, was motivated by a desire to avoid accommodating her religious practice. That was enough, he concluded, to allow her to sue under a federal employment discrimination law.”

Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or expression is forbidden by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically dealing with hiring practices. This and other cases show how important an issue the accommodation of religious belief has become.

As this is the case in the United States, religious diversity in the workplace must be accommodated; therefore the only issue is how this is carried out. I feel it is important to gain insight from people of different backgrounds and beliefs in order to see how each person adjusts to working in an institution that differs from their own faith tradition. Therefore, I created a list of questions to ask to see how different people adjust to this situation. Interview subjects will be personal contacts; their names and institutions will be changed to respect their privacy. The answers will be shared and analyzed as a whole, rather than individually, as this will show more clearly what can be learned on a general level as well as the specifics of each case.

I appreciate any and all feedback, and look forward to discussing this with everyone. I hope it creates a lively discussion.

Here are the questions as a preview:

Did any difference in religion/denomination make you feel any reticence to apply to this position?

Did you expect any conflict(s) to arise as the result of your current position?

If so, what are/were they and how have they been resolved?

Has your view of the religion/denomination you work for changed as a result of your position there?

Has your understanding of your own tradition changed as a result?


Image Source: Pafcool2 via Wikimedia Commons

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