24 March, 2019

How to manage religious diversity in the workplace

How to manage religious diversity in the workplace

Encouraging religious diversity enriches a company by bringing different viewpoints to the workplace. 

It's also an increasingly practical consideration for employers. The most recent census data shows increasing religious diversity in Australia with the number of people reporting a non-Christian faith now accounting for 7.2%, up from 4.9% in 2001. 

The Human Rights Commission also notes: "It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace because of their actual or assumed religious belief or activity.

"Employees are protected from discrimination at all stages of employment including recruitment, workplace terms and conditions and dismissal. 

"Religious belief means holding, or not holding, a religious belief or view that is not against the law. Religious activity means taking part, not taking part or refusing to take part in a religious activity that is not against the law."

Tolerance and acceptance of religious views is worth the effort it takes to create an inclusive environment. Here are four ways to ensure your company is accepting of religious preferences.

1. Offer training to employees on religious diversity

It's important all staff are aware of what is acceptable in terms of discussing and accepting differences of faith in the workplace.

2. Provide time off to employees for religious reasons

Be flexible with religions that require worship to be offered at specific times, even though it may interfere with a work day or year. Be mindful that Christian religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are offered as paid holidays, while those for other religions are not. 

Leading practice employers usually allow staff to apply under annual leave, carer’s leave or other types of personal paid or unpaid leave for religious holidays. 

Include major religious and cultural holidays on a calendar to help set work schedules.

3. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy for religion-based bullying 

Encourage employees to accept differences and be open to finding common ground. Encourage parties with religious differences to discuss their faith and problems in a safe environment, away from other workers, so that they may come to a better understanding of one another. Avoid overreacting to simple issues that may arise, but adopt a zero-tolerance policy for severe issues. Employees need to know what kinds of behavior will not be tolerated and that action will be taken immediately if problems between employees occur. If they have been properly trained and educated on company policies, there is no excuse for severe religious issues between employees.

4. Build an inclusive environment 

Consider creating a “quiet room” or “reflection room” in the workplace. Make sure to describe it in those terms, rather than a “prayer room”, as it's more inclusive for non-religious people who may meditate or need a space for private reflection. Having a quiet room on-site also has the advantage of minimising time away from the workplace. 

Encourage work socialisation that involves eating rather than just drinking alcohol. Ensure non-alcoholic beverages are offered and create a tip sheet that outlines religious dietary restrictions that should be considered at meetings or events.

Accommodate employees' desire to wear religious attire, such as a hijab, providing there are no health and safety risks involved for the employee or their co-workers.