Religious bias in the workplace isn’t just unfair; it’s also illegal. Allowing religious bias to take place in a professional environment can cause big problems for employers, since employees might become resentful or file a lawsuit if they suspect unfairness. If your workplace tolerates religious bias, or if you witness examples of unfair treatment based on someone’s religious beliefs, talk to human resources right away. Never allow yourself to participate in mocking or discussing others’ religious beliefs, since this makes you look unprofessional and unkind. It could also get you penalized or fired.
Fairness Is the Law
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to treat people differently because of their religious beliefs, according to the University of South Florida. That same law also outlawed bias related to race, color, sex or national origin. Bias can take different forms; for example, employers can’t apply a religious bias to hiring and firing, offer fringe benefits to preferred individuals based on their religion or provide access to work facilities based on religious beliefs. Religious bias puts workers and employers at a huge legal disadvantage because they could face lawsuits, investigations or other penalties that result in lost productivity and money.
Confusion of Terms
Another disadvantage related to religious bias rules in the workplace is that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to defining terms, although the law is very clear on this point. Some workers or employers might erroneously think that because they’re legally protected from religious bias, this gives them the right to actively promote their religion to others. Although it’s not acceptable to allow unfair treatment based on someone’s religious beliefs, you also shouldn't try to force your religion on others at work, according to the University of South Florida. For example, an employer might pressure workers to attend her church’s fundraiser or an employee could repeatedly invite uninterested colleagues to attend Bible studies. These activities constitute religious harassment and are illegal.
Keeping Things Positive
Religious bias in the workplace has the additional disadvantage of lowering morale. Jokes about employees' clothing or behaviors related to their religion can cause embarrassment or unhappiness, according to "Incentive" magazine. Workers who experience religious bias are more likely to look for a different job, contributing to higher turnover and lost productivity. Even employees who aren't on the receiving end of mocking but who witness negative treatment of people based on what they believe could feel angry or unhappy with their workplace environment.
Businesses can discourage religious bias by creating, posting and discussing clear expectations for performance that are unrelated to people’s religious beliefs. Managers should take employee complaints seriously, looking into situations where people report unfair treatment or experiences because of their religion. If you don’t feel comfortable telling someone not to pressure you into visiting a church or temple, report the situation to human resources. Never participate in jokes that discriminate against religious beliefs.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Religious Discrimination
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
- Incentive Magazine: Religious Discrimination Impacts Employee Morale
- American Center for Law and Justice: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace (Title VII)
- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.