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Balancing Religious Traditions with Legal Requirements

religious discrimination/harassment prevention

by Carol Rovello, SPHR

This is the time of year when people celebrate the holidays with long-standing religious and family traditions. Many companies also have holiday traditions, some of which may be aligned with a particular religious practice. This is a good time to assess your company's holiday traditions to be sure that they comply with EEO-related requirements.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act addresses religious discrimination. This law applies to your organization if you have 15+ employees. Even if your organization is not subject to Title VII, you wouldn't want any of your valued employees to feel offended or excluded.

"To reduce the likelihood of discrimination/harassment complaints, keep the following in mind:

  1. When making work holiday plans, avoid creating an environment that is hostile to workers of various religions. Parties or decorations that recognize one religious holiday to the exclusion of others could put your organization at risk. You may wish to either avoid all religious references in your decorations or parties, or recognize a variety of religions in order to avoid alienating employees.

  2. What if your employees want to decorate their personal workspaces to celebrate religious or cultural holidays? Generally, employees have a right to religious expression in the workplace, though the extent of these rights remains unclear. You can limit your employees' freedom to decorate personal workspaces, and those limitations would apply equally to both nonreligious decorations (i.e. family pictures) and religious decorations (i.e. nativity scenes).

  3. You may encounter requests for time off from employees whose religious beliefs mandate participation in religious holidays for which your organization does not provide paid time off. Since you are required to provide reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religion, you would typically comply with such requests by allowing your employees to use paid leave, to swap shifts with other employees, or to take unpaid leave. Only if the request created an undue hardship should you deny leave requests related to religious holidays."

When you are trying to do something nice for your employees, such as providing a party or decorating the office, it makes sense that you would intentionally try to avoid offending employees or alienating employees who may feel their religion or culture has been ignored. This just makes good business sense, even if not required by law.

Source: SHRM Express Request

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Carol Rovello is the President of Strategic Workplace Solutions.

 


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