For decades, managers in the U.S. have been challenged by the tricky issue of religion in the workplace. If every worker has a legally protected right to religious freedom, what does an employer do when different workers' religious beliefs (or lack of them) come into conflict?
On the whole, corporate America has chosen to avoid controversy by limiting religious expression at work as much as possible. However, people of faith are putting this secular approach to the test. Here's some advice for managers:
Send a signal. Many companies have long drawn a distinction between ethnic and cultural diversity, which they value and celebrate openly, and religious diversity, which they refuse to endorse. But the arguments for embracing diversity on your team can be just as true concerning differences of faith. Allowing those differences to be expressed can improve employee morale and motivation and enrich the team's work together by broadening its perspective.
Where to draw the line. For many employers, the new frontier is proselytizing: It's OK for workers to express their faith and values, but not for them to judge or try to change everyone else's beliefs. Of course, it's hard to police that border. For some nonbelievers, simply seeing a holy book or religious symbol on a co-worker's desk is offensive. And for some believers, sharing their religion—and seeking to convert others—is essential to their faith. Court rulings so far have been mixed on when an employer's efforts to manage religion at work have gone too far. Nonetheless, an approach grounded in respect for everyone's beliefs is a good place to start.
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