How Should Employers Address Religion in the Workplace?
According to many academic journals, workplace spirituality can increase performance and develop ethical organisations. On the other hand, there are some aspects of religion that can cause hazards and often difficult conversations with employees.
Be Reasonable and Sincere
If employers ignore the religious needs of employees, it may lead to safety issues or discrimination and adverse action claims. Employers should actively accommodate religious employees before religious beliefs and practices conflict with job requirements or existing policies and procedures.
Our multicultural society celebrates many religions and all it takes is an understanding of the requirements of employees, as well as clear expectations when practicing their faith at work. All exceptions made for religious purposes need to be reasonable and should minimise undue hardship when co-operating with employees. Discriminating against an employee’s religion is unlawful and employers need to be wary of breaching their employment obligations.
Exceptions and Alternatives
There may come a time when religious beliefs or practices require exceptions. Common work process, policies and procedures, or existing rules may need exemptions applied for some employees.
For example, an employee who is prohibited by religious practice from working on the Sabbath may need to be given an alternative schedule.
Another example, an employer may have a dress code policy that prohibits visible tattoos at work. If an employee has a visible tattoo that appears to be a religious insignia, it would be appropriate to ask the employee whether he or she is permitted to cover the tattoo at work. If the religious belief or practice prohibits covering the tattoo, the employer may need to allow this an exception to their policy. If an exception is permitted, it does not need to be applied to other employees who have nonreligious tattoos.
A Place to Pray
If an employee’s religious practice requires time for prayer during the workday, employers should try to factor this into breaks and find an appropriate place to allow for prayers. That could be an office or conference room, or an otherwise separate area where the employees can pray in private.
Be Safe Not Sacrilegious
Religious beliefs and practices can sometimes result in risks and hazards which could impact not only the individual, but also the safety of others. Safety requirements and regulations need to be upheld in the workplace at all times and should not be forgotten because of a religious belief or practice. For example, an employee absent from a production line.
Religious dress could pose a risk to the health and safety of workers when operating machinery or other equipment. If an employee’s religion requires that he or she wear particular clothes that are considered hazardous when worn near moving equipment or machinery, this could pose a threat to the health and safety of others.
Unless there is another type of clothing that would meet the employee’s requirements, requesting the employee to work in those clothes does not constitute discrimination.
Religion and Reasonability
In the context of accommodating religious beliefs and practices, an employer must be able to reasonably prove that sacrificing an employee’s right to practice their faith would require:
more than ordinary business costs
diminish efficiency in other jobs
impair workplace safety
infringe on the rights and benefits of other employees
cause other employees to carry more responsibility or workload
resulting in hazardous or burdensome work
conflict with workplace laws and obligations
If you have any concerns about your requirements as an employer when it comes to supporting religious practices and beliefs, Employsure can answer any questions you may have and guide you through your obligations under employment legislation. Call us today on 1300 651 415.
Information sourced via Workplace spirituality and organizational performance by JC Garcia‐Zamor and AllBusiness website.
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