Keeping the Faith While Keeping Your Job: Harmonize Your Religious Beliefs and the Rules of the Workplace

Article excerpt

When his religious beliefs conflicted with NBA policies, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a devout Muslim, was suspended. Rauf had refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem, saying it went against his understanding of Islam. Eventually, after the controversy surfaced in the media, he reached a compromise with the NBA: He would stand for the flag but pray silently during the Pledge of Allegiance.

While Rauf's situation played out in grand proportions, many workers in America face less publicized standoffs between their religious beliefs and the edicts of the workplace. Almost 3,000 charges of religious discrimination were filed last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; this number represents less than 2% of all charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC. Still, religious discrimination is thought to be even more prevalent. Most instances are not reported, and many people simply quit their jobs, not knowing their legal rights.

Georgette Evans, a Jehovah's Witness from Roseville, Michigan, says she was labeled a "woman with the attitude problem" after her religious beliefs took precedence over attending an employee's birthday party. Jehovah's Witnesses do not traditionally celebrate birthdays or holidays. Evans, a customer service representative at the time, initially did not explain her reasoning to her co-workers. When she did, she was ridiculed. Her boss was also unsympathetic and gradually withdrew important projects from her charge. As a result, Evans quit.

For many of us, however, quitting isn't an option. Samaria Tillman, director of human resources at BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine in New York, asserts that religion is an employee's business, but employers must respect that preference. …