Managing Religious Expression in the Workplace

Many workers wish to decorate their offices during the holiday season, leaving employers to determine how to regulate religious expression in the workplace. One expert recommends allowing employees to express themselves – with a few caveats.

Saint Joseph’s University business ethics expert David Steingard, Ph.D., said silencing employees’ religious expression just doesn’t work. He explained that a workplace policy banning all religious celebration is a basic violation of religious freedom and, practically speaking, isn’t feasible.

“As people spend so much time in the workplace, to deny any recognition or practice of religion at work would be morally unjustifiable – one’s religious identity cannot simply be switched off at work,” Steingard said.

So what’s an employer to do? According to Steingard, there are a few important questions that employers and employees in a religiously pluralistic work place should consider:

  • Is everyone’s faith tradition being honored or celebrated?
  • What is considered religious expression?
  • If one employee’s religious expression offends another, whose right is honored and why?

Steingard adds that displays and festivities related to Christmas, while central to American culture and seemingly harmless to some, may be disconcerting to others. A company’s good intentions in throwing a Christmas party, for example, could make non-Christians feel alienated or uncomfortable.

While there might not be a definitive answer of how to deal with religion in the workplace during this holiday season, Steingard says addressing such problems head-on is the best approach.

“Companies need to have thoughtful and engaged dialogues on these questions – otherwise, if unmanaged, religious bias in the workplace will inevitably occur,” he said.

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