Many of today’s global geopolitical conflicts are based largely upon differing points of view considering religion. This is no doubt as to why religion in the workplace has become such a hot-button issue. Religious discrimination is nothing new; groups have been treating others differently because of different theological beliefs for millennia. Yet despite thousands of years of examples to pull from, current cases of religious discrimination are still often difficult to pinpoint and address properly.
Perhaps the reason is a perceived lack of objectivity. When addressing matters of race or gender, it’s often easy to identify where prejudices may lie based off of physical factors. Yet when considering a difference in feelings and beliefs, there typically isn’t a lot of empirical evidence to evaluate. Thus, actually determining that one’s beliefs and philosophies are being unfairly judged can be quite challenging.
How and Where do Anti-Discrimination Laws Apply
A better way to manage potential cases of alleged religious discrimination may be to understand the laws that regulate them, and what specific protections they provide. There are currently two federal statutes that set the standard for regulating issues of religion in the workplace: the Civil Rights Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RFRA specifically addresses laws meant to limit the exercise of religion at work. For example, in cases involving differences of opinion regarding sexual orientation, the law may provide a means for one who disagrees with another’s orientation to be removed from a situation where he or she is in a position to make decisions regarding the other’s career advancement.
The Civil Rights Act deals with the actual practice of religious discrimination. Regarding religion, it offers employee protection in the following areas:
• Hiring and promotion: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states that it is unlawful to use discrimination when hiring or promoting a candidate. Specific examples of this may include passing over a potential candidate due to him or her belonging to a different denomination or offering a promotion based upon improved church attendance. Conversely, a manager cannot deny an employee a deserved promotion simply because he or she chooses to talk about religion at work.
• Discipline and harassment: The protections offered by Title VII also refer to the other terms and conditions of employment. For example, one cannot be fired based solely upon his or her decision to miss work due to a religious holiday. Cases of an employee being harassed because of his or her beliefs must be taken seriously, as should situations where an employee feels he or she is being infringed upon by another’s attempts to get him or her to attend church.
• Accommodations: The Civil Rights Act also states that employers must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practices to the point that it does not present an undue hardship. If one’s beliefs involve certain styles of dress or the displaying of religious symbols or artwork on his or her work desk, such practices should be tolerated as long as they do not conflict with individual or company performance.
It is said that there are two topics that should not be brought up in general conservation: religion and politics. Yet avoiding the issue of religion in the workplace may be next to impossible given the prevalence of people who hold strong to their beliefs or adhere strongly to antireligious sentiments. If and when allegations of unfair treatment in the workplace do arise, the potential for such a situation to become incendiary is very high. Yet executives and managers can successfully diffuse such situations using sound judgment and by being open and transparent in their decisions. Doing so may not leave all involved parties satisfied, but it might at least convey a strong effort given towards being fair to everyone.
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