In day-to-day operations, balancing management’s obligations and responsibilities with employee rights can be a tricky proposition. Two commonly reported areas of conflict concern employees’ religious and cultural rights. In America’s diversified workplace, the potential for these conflicts is great. However, common sense and a basic familiarity with labor law regarding diversity help the employer navigate this important area of human resources management.
Religious Accommodation and Denial
According to the Anti-Defamation League, incidences of conflict in the workplace over religious freedom are increasing. The ADL suggests businesses are wise to take these conflicts seriously, because the consequences for handling them incorrectly are increasingly severe. By federal law, businesses are required to “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious practices and obligations unless doing so would create undue hardship for the employer. For example, if an employer denies an employee’s request for a day off to observe a religious holiday, the employer must show how and why the accommodation would have created an administrative or financial expense.
Other Common Reasons for Religious Conflict
Generally, an employer must allow the wearing of religious garb in the workplace unless he can demonstrate that workplace safety would be compromised. Proselytism in the workplace by employees may be tolerated by the employer unless its pervasiveness is detrimental to other employees’ performance and well-being. Even then, the employer should first try to accommodate the religious employee by separating him from offended employees. If an employee has a religious objection to signing a code of conduct that includes the acceptance of particular people or lifestyles, the employer should accommodate the religious employee unless undue hardship would arise.
Increasing diversity in the American workplace has created new demands for employers. Language issues, cultural insensitivity and harassment are potential areas for diversity-based conflict between employers and employees. According to labor lawyer Anna Elento-Sneed, the overall consideration regarding diversity is not to ignore it. Ignorance only confuses the issue and will eventually lead to harassment and discrimination complaints. Rather, employers should recognize the differences multiculturalism brings to the workplace and deal with them openly and proactively.
Preventing Diversity-Based Conflicts
Employers should create programs for handling cultural diversity issues. For example, training employees who are new to the United States on standards of behavior, including its laws, values and what is considered acceptable behavior in the American workplace can be invaluable in preventing conflicts. In addition, employers should train existing employees and supervisors on what constitutes discrimination and harassment. Also, to avoid language conflicts, management should stipulate which jobs require English language proficiency and include that information in those positions’ job descriptions. Additionally, employers should determine if an English-only requirement during work time is essential.
A Los Angeles native, Russ Buchanan has been writing and editing for such disparate publications as “Midnight Graffiti Magazine” and “Op/Ed News.” He has been writing professionally since 1990. He attended Pierce College and California State University, Northridge.