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When religions collide, foster a spirit of tolerance

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in Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Religion rarely mixes well with work. Fortunately for managers, people with strongly held beliefs usually prefer not to argue with their colleagues about spiritual matters.

But if they do argue, you can find yourself in the center of a storm. Tempers can flare as you try to impose calm on what for many individuals is a deeply emotional issue that's largely non-negotiable.

In many cases, conflicts revolve around the need for reasonable accommodation. For example, an employee at a telecommunications company started wearing a button with a picture of a fetus. She explained to upset colleagues that she made a vow to God that she would wear the button until all abortions stopped.

After numerous complaints from her co-workers, the company suggested that she cover up the button whenever she left her cubicle. That would allow her to keep her vow while minimizing the button's disturbance to others.

When she refused, the company terminated her for causing disruptions. The resulting court case (Wilson v. U.S. West Communications) ruled in the employer's favor.

As a manager, you're walking on eggshells in such situations. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from religious discrimination and lets them practice their religion at work as long as it doesn't unduly burden the employer. Courts are frequently deciding what constitutes a burden.

Model the kind of tolerance and mutual respect you want your employees to exhibit. If religious issues arise, urge everyone to show understanding rather than impose their will.

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