No matter where you turn you’re going to meet people with varying spiritual and religious beliefs. Everyone has the right to choose what religion he or she wishes to follow, but does he have the right to bring those beliefs into the workplace?
Generally there is a very defined line between work and religion; a line that keeps each completely separate. While employers won’t discriminate against employees based on their religious beliefs, they may or may not have rules regarding religious displays within the workplace.
Here’s where the line gets a little fuzzy. Perhaps your company has a dress code governing hairstyles, clothing choices, and even makeup. What if one of these rules contradicts and individual’s religoius beliefs? Are you required to make an exception to the rule? In most cases you would need to do so in order to avoid being accused of harassment or discrimination.
I’m familiar with at least one or two organisations that prohibit employees from decorating their office spaces for the holidays. They company itself chooses to display holiday season adornments that are not targeted at any specific religious holiday. They feel this will keep their employees in the spirit of the season without creating discontent because one religious group is represented more than another.
The truth of the matter is that the workplace today is comprised of a myriad of different genders, races, and religious beliefs. While you and your organisation may take a “religion free” stance when it comes to defining your workplace, this doesn’t mean that different individuals won’t challenge that decision or that you won’t inadvertently make a comment that is misconstrued as discrimination or harassment.
The moral of the story: be careful what you say and do, regardless of your own religious beliefs. Are you prepared to handle religious controversy in the workplace? Have you had a difficult situation in your office already?
Originally published: 19 January, 2009
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