Does God have a place at the office?

Walking the fine line of religion in the workplace can be awfully tricky. This HR pro argues it will only result in problems. Do you agree?

Employees rights to religion at work

I understand that the law provides employees the opportunity for religious accommodation meaning employers should provide employee time off to worship, attend their church, and observe their religious holidays. I have had my share of run-ins with management staff as I explained that employees can take time off to attend church and worship. To exclude any employees from practicing their religious freedom would be a form of religious discrimination.

These rights are part The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and applies to freedom from religious discrimination, accommodation, and hostile work environment matters in both public and private workplaces.

Examples of religious discrimination in the workplace

In many cases, religion at work causes more problems than not in the workplace. Practicing religion at the office or even sharing beliefs can touch on nerves, hurt feelings, and ignite high level of anger as well as passion. Religion at work provides a veritable HR smorgasbord of workplace scenarios:

  • Employee Bible Study. As an HR Director, I arrived to the office early. It was a Wednesday morning and was surprised to see so many employee cars in the office parking lot. As I walked the office and facility floor, most offices were empty, so where were all the people? Upon further investigation I found a large group of staffers in a meeting room facilitating a weekly morning employee Bible study. I literally stopped in my tracks. This is a problem because according to the act mention above, I need to create a workplace free from religious discrimination meaning if one religion has a Bible or religious study, all may be offered the same opportunity.
  • When employee religious beliefs offend other employees. Picture an employee sharing their very public view and religious stance on abortion complete with a picture of a dead baby held in a woman’s arms as a screen saver on their work computer. While he or she has right to their own opinion, and the freedom to practice religion as he or she see’s fit, the office was in an open area and caused a slew of complaints from offended employees.
  • When religious head coverings conflict with dress code. Having a great deal of experience working in a retail and customer-facing setting, dress code is very important. Muslim head coverings and other religious self-expression items like cross earrings and jewelry are allowed for employees to wear at work. To create employee rules that forbid religiously established forms of dress would be to invite a religious discrimination lawsuit. For example, Muslim woman at a Disney-owned restaurant filed a discrimination complaint in 2010 saying that she had repeatedly been sent home without pay for refusing to remove her head scarf at work.

Does religion belong at work?

The holidays, preferably those of the more of the Christian variety, seem to be primetime for igniting conflict surrounding religion at work. Sometimes that’s okay; just observe the recent Rhode Island “holiday tree” controversy that grabbed headlines. Of course, most the holiday season isn’t really about religion; it’s about vacation, family, and commercialism driving that capitalist machine where we live today.

So excuse me, if this HR hippie chick is a little jaded and not too enthusiastic about religion, specifically God at work.

I understand the power and importance of belief, community, and religion. I happen to live smack in the middle of the Bible Belt in Oklahoma. Generally speaking, I don’t mind hearing about people’s thoughts and conversations surrounding their religion and beliefs. I find the topic captivating. I’m a student of religion; constantly fascinated and reading about religion among different people and cultures.

Religion like politics is a workplace topic that is guaranteed to generate an HR s&$! storm which is why I’ve had enough.

God has no place in the workplace. Do you agree?

Jessica Miller-Merrell writes an HR blog, Blogging4jobs.com, where this article was first published.

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