Managing Religious Diversity

Ying Yang
Just what is ‘reasonable accommodation?’

America boasts a multitude of religious faiths, and they are not felt lightly. In a recent poll, most respondents said that religion plays a "very important" role in their lives. Of course, that can mean their work lives, too, leaving the boss struggling to provide “reasonable accommodation” for a wide variety of beliefs.

That term “reasonable accommodation” is not easy to interpret in a court of law, and it can be much harder in the real world of the workplace. Below are some examples of common problems, and suggestions on how to solve them.

 

The Office Preacher

Nothing can disrupt a religiously diverse workplace faster than an employee who insists on proselytizing others, or expressing disapproval of what they believe to be immoral conduct. Such religious expression may even violate an employer's anti-harassment or diversity policies.

Yet, if an employer automatically enforces those policies—effectively telling the preacher to cool it¬—the employer may be accused of religious discrimination, in violation of federal and state laws.

And that’s where “reasonable accommodation” comes in. An employer generally cannot refuse to hire or promote a person merely because of his or her religious beliefs. Employers also must reasonably accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs, such as a request to honor the Sabbath or to wear religious clothing, unless it would cause an undue burden or hardship to the employer.

 

 

Writing on the Wall

Recent cases have found that persistent and blatant proselytizing by employees at work can be prohibited, even if it is a requirement of the employee's religion.

For example, an employee is not entitled to post biblical passages denouncing homosexuality on the walls of his or her work station. That would infringe on the employer's right to promote diversity and tolerance in the workplace.

Yet, if the expression of belief is less pronounced or widespread, the employer may be forced to accept it.

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About the author

Emma Luevano

Emma Luevano is a regular contributor to LatinBusinessToday.com on legal issues relevant to small and medium business. She is a partner at the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP (www.msk.com) who advises and represents management on labor and employment matters, including sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, public policy violations, wrongful termination, class action wage and hour issues,and retaliation.