Thursday, February 28, 2013

Religious Discrimination

By: Ido Saltarelli

Overview/ History

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex (gender), or national origin. (Pub. L. 88-352) (Title VII). The United States corporate environment is changing everyday to keep pace with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) litigation. Most organizations are familiar with Title VII and discrimination based on gender and race is in headlines daily. One case that is beginning to be more prevalent is religious discrimination. (Borstorff, Cunningham, & Clark 2012) The United States is the most religiously diverse country in the world with over 1500 recognized religions. The EEOC requires employers to
“Reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer's business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.”
Retrieved from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision.
Title VII also protects against harassment, workplace segregation, and forced participation. (Suillivan 2012). The question corporate America presents is what is a reasonable accommodation? According to Borstorff, Cunningham, & Clark “examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.” What the EEOC says is undue hardship is “if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.” ( Employers face the task of maintaining a sound work environment, complying with laws, and improving their bottom line. 


Religion is not just the belief of a book, profit, a higher power, or idea. For many people religion is their way of life and it defines them in a way that is not apparent at first glance. A person’s belief affects their attitudes, motivation, values, and all aspects of their life. As employees begin to understand their rights more the number of claims filed with the EEOC have doubled in the last 10 years. (Borstorff, Cunningham, & Clark 2012) According to the EEOC website settlements have risen from 182 to 368 between 2001 and 2011. ( The average settlement is over $30,000 not including any litigation fees. ( Suillivan also reminds us that along with monetary damages companies also face a loss to intangible assets as well. Such losses include but are not limited to reduced company morale, loss of focus to company objectives, and damage to a company’s reputation.
            According to a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey only 40% of organizations have a formal policy for employees to request religious accommodations. In my option this is an example that many companies do not realize the

importance of religion among employees. Recruiting top talent is already difficult in today’s job market, not having policies in place for the diverse religious landscape from which talent is drawn diminishes the chances to acquire diverse talent. “HR professionals
reported that employee morale and employee retention were most affected by having a workplace that provided religious accommodation for its employees.” SHRM: Society of Human Resources Management (2008)
In The Future

Moving forward with HR practices is essential for organizations large and small. To keep turnover rates low, improve employee motivation, increase productivity and grow organizations HR professionals need to be at the front of training, recruiting, and managing EEOC policies.  As of now SHRM reports that only half of managers are being trained in religious diversity issues. Companies need to do a better job training and providing information to all employees to help them understand the importance of religious diversity.  SHRM suggests that since only 40% of organizations have a formal policy for employees to request religious accommodations they should institute programs where employees can swap work days such as Christmas vacation days for non-Christian holidays. Also many businesses have instituted personal days as sick days. These can be used for personal religious reasons. 
As organizations push for diversity in the workplace religious diversity grows as well. Since Religion is in many people their personal code of conduct it is a good idea for employers to be respectful of their beliefs and be reasonable in their accommodation of employees religious request. SHRM’s survey reported that “employee morale (62%), retention (38%) and loyalty (37%) are most affected when organizations grant religious accommodation to their employees.”

Borstorff, Patricia C., Brent J. Cunningham, and Louise J. Clark. "The Communication and Practice of Religious Accommodation: Employee Perceptions." The Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship 17.4 (2012): n. pag. Print.

SHRM: Society of Human Resources Management (2008). Religion and Corporate Culture. Alexandria, VA

"EEOC Home Page." EEOC Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

"Religion-Based ChargesFY 1997 - FY 2012." Religion-Based Charges. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Sullivan, Pat M. Handbook of Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace Emerging Research and Practice. N.p.: Springer Verlag, 2012. Print.

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