Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Protecting Religion in the Workplace? What Employees Think

Academic journal article Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues

Protecting Religion in the Workplace? What Employees Think

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Religion plays an important role in the values that people hold. The increase in the number of religious discrimination lawsuits filed with the EEOC indicates that employees believe employers are not proactive enough in meeting their religious needs. Today's workforce is becoming more diversified in ethnicity, culture, language, and religion. Many people would prefer that religion had no place in the workplace. However, factors influencing the presence of religion include the workplace becoming a primary source of community, the increase in immigration, and the change in the role of work in the lives of individuals. We investigated the perceptions of employees concerning religious accommodation. We found that 65% of respondents worked at a company with an official diversity policy; however only 55% felt that their employer has a clear method of communicating this policy. Companies allowed religious activities but only 49% of companies incorporate faiths different from Christianity or Judaism. Fifty-six percent of respondents felt their company had a policy allowing attire accommodation if an employee's religious practice conflicts with the dress code. Employers need to look for ways to avoid future accommodation suits by being prepared to deal with religious issues in the workplace.

INTRODUCTION

There are approximately 310 million people in the United States (www.census.gov, Nov. 2009). According to a national Gallup Poll, 95 percent of the national population says that they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 90 percent say that religion is important (Ball & Haque, 2003; Henle & Hogler, 2004). For most individuals, because work dominates such a large part of one's life, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate one's religious beliefs from the workplace. Over the last twenty years, it has become common practice to express one's personal views about religious and spiritual topics and to seek religious accommodation in the workplace (Morgan, 2004). This increased desire to express one's self religiously has caused some complicated issues for managers today. Consequently religious diversity is emerging as a significant issue. Because it is driven by demographic trends, religion looms large as a future diversity issue. The laws governing religious diversity are unclear, making it difficult for employers and employees to know where the boundaries are. It is imperative that focus is given to how businesses deal with religious accommodation and the conflict that arises when a compromise cannot be found.

Data compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) indicates the religious discrimination claims against employers have increased from 1,811 in Fiscal Year 1999 to 3,386 in Fiscal Year 2009 with monetary awards rising from $3.1 million to $7.6 million. The monetary rewards did not include monetary benefits obtained through litigation. In 1999, 2,188 were resolved (some cases forwarded from previous year) while in 2009, 2,958 cases were resolved (www.eeoc.gov/stats/religion).

"The latest data tell us that, as the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, the Commission's work is far from finished," said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. "Equal employment opportunity remains elusive for far too many workers and the Commission will continue to fight for their rights. Employers must step up their efforts to foster discrimination-free and inclusive workplaces, or risk enforcement and litigation by the EEOC". (www.eeoc.gov)

IMMIGRANT INFLUX

The increase of immigrants into the U. S has exacerbated the problems with religion accommodation. More than 1,800 immigrants enter the country daily (Pace & Padgham, 2000). The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the number of immigrants from the Middle East has grown eight times from 1970 to 2001 and is expected to double again by 2010. Almost 75% of these immigrants were of the Muslim faith with Islam being the fastest growing religion in the United States. …

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