Religion in the Workplace: A Managerial Outline for Navigating the Law at the Intersection of Business and Religion
This technical note provides an overview of religious discrimination law in the United States and provides managers with a meaningful understanding of their rights and obligations when an employee's religious beliefs or practices conflict with his or her work responsibilities. The analysis will touch on intentional discrimination and harassment ("I'm firing you because you're Christian/Jewish/Other"), types of religious discrimination that are readily identifiable and resolvable. Less obviously, U.S. law requires that employers provide "reasonable accommodation" whenever a religiously neutral business practice interferes with an employee's religious practice; this reasonable accommodation doctrine is more complex and nuanced. Providing reasonable accommodation presents obstacles for managers that are as legalistically dense as they are financially treacherous. This note aims to help managers identify blatantly illegal practices, but it also aims to assist management in navigating the gray areas where the law is underdeveloped or inconsistently applied. The law often provides vignettes of what managers legally can or cannot do, but neither laws nor cases interpreting them provide clear answers for managers attempting to handle challenging religious issues that arise in their firms. Finally, while digesting the information provided in this note, managers must remember that this analysis describes legal solutions, not managerial ones.