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Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.
— Chinese Proverb
 
 

Embracing Religious Diversity in the Midst of Political Chaos

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” – John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy’s quote can be a useful thought exercise for American companies when evaluating the nexus of religious freedom, diversity, and productivity.  The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) published a survey report in 2011 that stated:

“Religion and spirituality education efforts in the workplace need to shift from minimizing differences to strengthening, respecting and valuing those differences to help drive an organization’s business results (bolding added for emphasis). Ongoing religious diversity training will help drive employee engagement and create a work environment that visibly values and leverages religious and spirituality diversity.”

Freedom of religion is an unalienable right established by the U.S. Constitution and protected in the workplace by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  The respondents to the SHRM survey reported that 51% of employees in a religiously diverse workplace work “very cooperatively” together.  But how do you address religious diversity in the midst of the current political craziness?  No matter what side of the travel ban issue you are on, today’s political tumult is potentially divisive, threatening, and bullying.  The emotions of this situation are likely seeping into the workplace in unexpected and unintended ways. 

According to statistics provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of complaints based on religious discrimination increased from 1388 in 1992 to 2572 in 2003.  The number of religion-based complaints received by the EEOC peaked at 4,151 in 2011, but have declined since then to 3,825 in 2016. The increase was largely attributed to the aftermath of 9/11.  Will the current political climate reignite potential religious intolerance and cause a spike in these numbers again? How do business leaders, managers, and human resources professionals navigate these concerns?

One way is to reevaluate and reissue your policies on religion, including religious accommodation.  Of all the classes protected by Title VII, only religion and disability are allowed accommodation.  Accordingly, it is advisable to prepare a policy separate and apart from the general anti-discrimination and anti-harassment procedures.  If you do not currently have a separate policy, however, redistribute your existing procedures pertaining to discrimination and be prepared to discuss the religious component openly with your employees.  The main point is to be proactive in communicating company policies and quickly and decisively hold employees accountable for adhering to them. 

Another suggestion is to promptly schedule diversity training around the topics of religion and spirituality.  According to the 2011 SHRM survey, 50% of the respondents reported that their companies offer religious diversity training to managers and supervisors.  The SHRM survey also noted that the number of employers offering religious diversity training to their management teams is increasing.  For example, in 2011, 36% of the respondents who had added religion and spiritual diversity training reported that they did so within the past 12 months. Managers and supervisors are on the front lines of enforcing the company policies equitably and consistently, so it is critical that they possess a thorough understanding of the company’s position.

Companies that “lean in” on the issue of religious diversity, will weather this political storm. As President Kennedy so presciently advised – and the 2011 SHRM statistics bear out -  companies that actively recognize and protect the religious freedoms of their employees will reap the rewards in terms of enhanced growth and morale.

For more information about developing a comprehensive religious diversity policy, auditing existing policies, or training, please contact Cynthia Fenton or Stephanie Woodhead at (844) 321-9733 or email us at info@workplacefactfinders.com

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.  Employers should consult their attorneys for legal advice.

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Cynthia Fentondive, reli, workplace