Some Salvation From Lawsuits

By Fara Warner

Apr. 22, 2011

With charges of religious discrimination on the rise, employers should redouble their efforts to avoid any signs of bias.

The major risks include disparate treatment based on an employee’s religion, harassment, failure to accommodate religious practices, and retaliation based on religion, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and hears charges of religious discrimination.

Here are some best practices the EEOC recommends:

Plan ahead: Develop a plan of action for dealing with requests from employees to accommodate their religious practices, such as providing prayer rooms. By law, employers must support employees’ religious needs on the job as long as they don’t cause undue hardship for the company.

Be flexible: Companies should train managers to understand and accommodate religious practices with which they may not be familiar. They can teach supervisors about different faiths’ traditions—such as why head scarves are important for Muslim women—to dispel confusion or discomfort. The EEOC also suggests establishing flexible holiday and personal-day policies to help employees fulfill their religious obligations.

Be cautious: In the move to accommodate religious diversity, employers should avoid letting workers proselytize or infringe on another person’s beliefs.

Write it down: Companies should put policies and practices in writing. The EEOC advises employers to establish written rules that govern how they handle any discussion of religion. In addition, employers should maintain written records of performance issues and disciplinary actions, which can provide a strong defense against charges that a worker was fired because of religion.

Act fast: Managers should act quickly when dealing with charges of religious discrimination or harassment. If a discrimination or harassment complaint is left unresolved for weeks or months without at least some discussion, an employee could take further steps, such as filing a complaint with the EEOC or hiring a lawyer.

Workforce Management, April 2011, p. 24Subscribe Now!

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