A Muslim woman gets fired from her job for wearing a hijab. A team member starts to receive fewer work assignments after he tells his coworkers he’s gay. A Christian counselor is warned that her professional license might be in jeopardy because she supports the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.
It’s not hard to see that these situations are unfair. Sadly, they happen—usually as a result of someone seeing the world too much from their own perspective and not seeking to understand and respect the perspectives of others.
While an advocacy group may take up a case for the gay employee, many people might say that it’s best for the Muslim or Christian to not bring their religion into the workplace.
It can be hard to know how to live your religion in the workplace. Here are a few rules of thumb:
You have a right to be free from religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. That means your boss can’t treat you any different from other employees (let alone fire you, refuse to hire you, or deprive you of promotions or benefits) based on your religious beliefs or practices. It also means you can object to unfairness without fear of reprisals. With rare exceptions, your company shouldn’t even ask you about your religion.
You have a right to receive reasonable religious accommodations, unless accommodating you creates an “undue hardship” on your employer. Because employers can’t ask you about your religion, it’s up to you to request religious accommodations from your employer. A reasonable accommodation is one that allows you to follow your religious beliefs with just a modest change to your work environment. For example, you can take Sundays off to observe the Sabbath if you can get your work done on other days and your employer can still cover needed shifts without unfairly burdening other employees.
You have a right to express your faith, as long as you don’t harass others or lead people to mistake your private expressions of faith for your employer’s views. You can talk to coworkers about your beliefs, hang a religious picture or keep personal items at your work station, wear religious clothing or jewelry, have personal devotionals (like reading your scriptures in the break room), or even start a voluntary prayer group, unless the company has job-related policies that apply the same to everyone (such as keeping desks clear of any personal items when customers can see them) and can’t give you an accommodation. If the company lets others express their personalities, you can too.
If a coworker asks you not to talk with him or her about your faith, then you need to stop. Continuing could be harassment. If you’re a supervisor, be careful not to inadvertently pressure your subordinates or make them think they’ll get special treatment or access if they adopt your beliefs.
Learn more about how to balance work and faith in:
“Religious Rights in the Workplace” from the New York State attorney general
“Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace” from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Promoting religious freedom is good for all aspects of business, including recruitment, retention, loyalty, morale, communication, productivity, innovation, and profits. Studies show that it’s a powerful part of a workplace culture that puts people first.
Learn more about how to promote religious freedom in your company from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.