Religious Diversity in the Workplace: Continuing the Conversation


We had a good turnout, and great conversation, on the topic of religious diversity in the workplace for our May Lunch and Learn. In addition to the legal issues around accommodating and avoiding discrimination on the basis of religious diversity, our speakers reminded us to consider the interpersonal dimensions of religious diversity, and the corresponding need to be thoughtful and intentional about inclusivity, and about challenging stereotypes. Ahmed El-Afandi asked the group who among us knew a Muslim, worked with a Muslim, shared a meal with a Muslim, or spent time with a Muslim person in our homes. So many hands were raised. Religious diversity is part of life in the greater La Crosse Area, and embracing this diversity enriches our social and working lives.


As with other areas of diversity, research also shows the business benefits of transparency, fairness, and inclusivity.   A recent article in The Guardian cited a survey by the Tanebaum organization showing that “companies that don’t provide information about their religious discrimination policies are more likely to have staff seeking new jobs than workers at companies that do. Job satisfaction is another key issue: workers at companies that don’t offer flexible hours for religious observance are more than twice as likely to say they don’t look forward to coming to work.”

What steps should employers take to welcome and accommodate people of various organized religions as well as those individuals with what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission refers to as “sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs?” Once again, the answer to the question of accommodation concerns workplace culture and policy, and improving both depends upon having the conversation about people’s needs. The two most common workplace complaints regarding lack of accommodations for religious people, especially religious minorities, are the lack of food options at workplace events, and the prohibition on wearing religious garments. (Prohibitions of this type are generally in violation of employment law.)

A proactive strategy taken by the law firm Ernst and Young can be instructive:  the company has established “quiet rooms… which are open to all employees to take a quick break, to reflect, pray or even to take medication.” It also plans major religious and cultural holidays into its company calendar for work scheduling, and provides dietary guidance to employees planning company events.

In terms of basic compliance with the law, this helpful article from the EEOC details the meanings of religious accommodation as well as religious discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and the management of conflicts around religious expression in the workplace. For additional resources on inclusivity, check out the work of the Tanebaum organization, dedicated to combating religious prejudice. Please contact the Council if you have further questions or ideas. Let’s keep this conversation going in the La Crosse area.

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Multi­cultural Resource Guide

This guide lists established and emerging resources that reflect and celebrate cultural diversity in our area.

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