Term Paper: Religious Freedom in the Workplace How Far

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Religious Freedom in the Workplace

How far is too far?

America is a place that brags of freedom from prejudice due to ethnicity, gender or religion. It is a melting pot of various races and religions, where none must suffer persecution or fear due to their who they are. Separation o church and state is the key principle that preserves the rights of individuals to make their own choices regarding spirituality and morality issues. The difficulty develops when the right to practice a particular religion extends into the work place. In recent years, workplaces have become battlegrounds for this delicate issue. This research will explore the issues involved with religious freedom in the workplace. It will support the thesis that religious freedom is detrimental to the workplace, regardless of the views of the American public.

Religious freedom takes many forms that differ from one order to another. In some cases, religious freedom may mean wearing certain types of dress. Other religions may conflict with the work schedule, requiring followers to attend special services during normal work hours. Certain religions may mean the avoidance of certain foods, or performing certain types of duties at work. Religions place many different requirements on their followers. Civil rights conflicts arise when an employee's religious requirements conflict with an employer's right to conduct business. Often, the issues on both sides are complex and so are the answers.

Religious Practices That Might Conflict with the Work Environment

It is difficult to discuss religious practices without citing some specific examples that might result in conflict. Many times the conflict is only specific to a particular job in a certain situation. For instance, male Muslims or Amish may wish to wear a long beard at work, as their custom dictates (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, n.d.). This may only be an aesthetic issue in certain work situations, such as at an office. It may violate dress codes in some work places. In this case, the employee may argue that this is discriminatory and that it poses no harm. To deny them this right may be considered discrimination against the characteristic look for someone identifying with that religion.

In certain situations, wearing a long beard may violate regulations that the establishment must obey, such as in a food establishment. A restaurant or food manufacturer that allows an employee to wear an uncovered beard may risk fines for violations of the rules. In this circumstance, the most obvious remedy would be to wear an appropriate beard covering according to health department regulations. A problem would ensue if the employee refused to wear one. In this case, the employee may place their employer at risk of fines, or in extreme cases closure. This places both the employee and the employer at risk.

In some cases, wearing a long beard in the workplace may pose an immediate risk to the employee. For instance, in manufacturing environments where the employee must work around moving parts, a beard could place the employee at risk of severe injury or death if the beard were to become entangled in the machinery. In this case, wearing a long beard may place the employee at risk of injury, and the employer at financial risk. The employer could face potential lawsuits, fines by safety organizations, and loss of equipment. Scenarios such as these create a worst case, in terms of pitting religious freedom against workplace violations.

This example demonstrates how one religious act can have varying degrees of risk involved for the employee and the employer. In the first case, the employer has little argument and it comes down to a matter of personal preferences. In the case of a retail establishment, wearing a beard may not fit the genre of the establishment, but the effects on sales are obscure. There is no credible way to examine the impact of allowing an employee to wear a beard for religious reasons on actual sales. One will never know if the customer made a judgment based on the presence or absence of a beard on the actual decision to buy or pass. The actual damages to the employee are arbitrary and difficult to define. However, if cutting the beard will not cause hardship, the employer must allow these practices (Carter v. Bruce Oakley, Inc., 1994).

In the second example, the employer is a risk of a real loss due to the actions of the employee. However, there is a reasonable accommodation to the problem that will satisfy the regulatory agencies and allow the worker to continue to wear their beard. The work can simply wear an approved beard covering and continue to work. This solution does not place undue strain on the employer, as these devices can be obtained cheaply.

The third example is the most problematic because there is no reasonable accommodation that can be made which would prevent the risk of injury to the employee and financial risk to the employer. In these cases, the employer is more likely to prevail (Bhatia v. Chevron USA, 1984-1985: EEOC v. Heil-Quaker Corp, 1990). When the issues involve safety, rather than aesthetics and preferences, regulatory agencies are less likely to bend, even if the practice is for religious reasons. In the end, the employer is the one with the most to lose, for it is they who must pay the fines. They are the ones that now have violations on their records. They have the final responsibility for making certain that workers follow regulations and operate machinery in a safe fashion. The employee may face disciplinary actions from the employer, or risk their own bodily harm, but the employer bears the brunt of the results of their actions. This example demonstrates how preferences for certain dress or hairstyles could have many forms and levels of severity.

Let us consider another example to illustrate this point. Some religions require their followers to attend worship or other services at prescribed times. Some examples of this type of accommodation are a Jewish person that wants to leave work early on Fridays to attend services (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, n.d.). Another may be the Muslim that must take certain breaks during their day to pray. Wiccans may want to work on a Christian holiday, but take time off for their own Sabbath (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, n.d.). There are many circumstances where the employee may ask for religious freedom in their work schedule.

In many cases, reasonable accommodations are able to be made. For instance, there may be the option of flex time. The employee may be able to work overtime during the week in order to make up for the time off. In other cases, they may be able to trade hours with another employee in order to accommodate the schedule. In many of these cases, the employer is required to relent to accommodate religious requirements (Redmond v. GAF Corp, 1978). These issues differ according to the needs of the work environment. In many cases, a compromise can be reached in schedule related issues. However, there are times when the employer will be placed in a difficult circumstance, such as not being able to fulfill a vital duty due to the absence.

Shifting the Balance of Power

Under the tenants and principles that govern the United States, every person has a right to practice the religion of their choice without hindrance from any other person or entity. At the same time, employers have the right to conduct business and to make profit. When these two rights come into conflict with one another, the issue often comes down to a balance of power. In cases where a reasonable accommodation can be made, the issue is easily resolved. However, sometimes accommodations can pose a substantial financial risk to the employer. The question that is as yet unanswered, is how far the employee has to go in order to make what is considered a "reasonable " accommodation. It is the definition of the term "reasonable" that poses the greatest problem in this case.

Statutes regarding religion in the workplace clarify religion to mean an organized faith. Therefore, atheists are protected (EEOC v. Townley Manufacturing, 1988). It was determined that membership in a secular organization, such as the Ku Klux Klan was not protected Bellamy v. Mason's Store, 1973). These cases were necessary additions to the law, as they prevented abuse of these rules under the law by allowing secular organization the ability to use the ruse of religion to gain their desires.

If one examines the progression of the laws regarding freedom of religion in the workplace, it becomes apparent that the balance of power has shifted from the worker to the employer and back again. In 1972, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was extended to require all medium and large companies to accommodate the religious needs of their employees. Companies with fewer than 15 employees were exempted from this requirement ((Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, n.d.). There was also a clause… [END OF PREVIEW]

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