Accommodating Religion in the Workplace

If you are Muslim and you work in a workplace where most are Christians, or a Jew invited to the company’s "pork roast picnic," satisfying your religious obligations and your office duties can be a difficult balance.

Federal laws in the United States mandates that employers should accommodate religious practices of their employees at the least cost to the employer, whose only duty is to provide a reasonable accommodation without undue hardship. This means that it is best for the company to accommodate the employees’ religious beliefs, but not to the point that it establishes or favors one’s religion over the other. However, this is not the case for most employers.

Employers are skittish over this issue, that they actually panic about religion. Companies are so scared to endorse religion, they do not even talk about it. Their concern lies of the fear that they may be branded as selective or, worse, discriminatory.

For instance, if an employer allows its Muslim workers to take several breaks to pray (around 3 at most), Catholic workers may request for taking a break to pray the Angelus at noon. And if the employer allows that, other denominations would request that their religious needs be accommodated as well, but doing so may decrease production.

However, if you insist on having your religious beliefs be accommodated, try following these tips.

Be proactive, but don’t be combative

Ask your employer for accommodation without threatening a lawsuit. Provide a proposal that does not cost anything and does not cause undue hardship on the part of the employer.

Reassure your employer and your fellow workers that you are not trying to convert them, and instead want them to be sensitive to your religious needs.

In return, you need to be sensitive to them and assure them you will get your work done. For instance, a Muslim who seeks prayer time during work hours or a Jew needing time off for Sabbath could offer to work later or on a Christian holiday.

Be flexible

Prove to your employer that you have taken a thoughtful approach to your situation. A Muslim prayer room, for instance, should be free from shoes.

To avoid disturbing other workers, as well as to avoid getting disturbed while praying, a separate room such as the supply room may be used to pray provided that a sign be placed on the door while praying, and by providing a prayer rug that becomes a required clean place to pray.

Bringing appropriate foods to a company outing is another solution, avoiding foods that would not follow Halal or Kosher rules.

Teach your religion reasonably

It is sometimes necessary to educate your supervisors or HR personnel about religious requests. Many people, especially Americans, have a vague or stereotypical understanding of Sikhs or Orthodox Jews. Teaching them about your religious requests should be done in a reasonable and friendly manner.

Do not compromise your beliefs

Take a clear stand. If you are deep in your religion, put your faith ahead of your career. If your company is not willing to accommodate you, you need to think about may not working there.

At best, you need to raise religious concerns during the interview stage. If you do not like what you hear while asking for religious accommodation at this point, you may want to go elsewhere.


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