Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


What are the Limits to Religious Expression in the Workplace?

22 Sep, 2017

A Sep 22, 2017 article by By Dana Wilkie published in the Society for Human Resource Management looks at this very issue. She asks “Can Religious Gatherings at Work Cross the Line?”

She writes: “An employee sends an e-mail to his entire department announcing that he’s going to start praying for the workplace each morning and inviting colleagues to join him in his office to pray to Jesus. He also asks co-workers to send him a list of personal concerns they’d like him to pray about.

“Should you allow this?

“The issue came up this week during a Society for Human Resource Management SHRM Connect online discussion.”


Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, offers some basic principles to keep in mind:

Title VII in U.S. law gives people the right to have their religious beliefs and practices accommodated in the workplace, within reasonable limits. People have a right to express their faith in the workplace as long as they don’t harass others or lead people to mistake their private expressions of faith for the employer’s views.

For example, employees can talk to coworkers about their beliefs, hang a religious picture or keep personal religious items at their work stations, wear religious clothing or jewelry, have personal devotionals (like reading scriptures in the break room), or even start a voluntary prayer group, that is unless the company has job-related policies that apply the same to everyone (such as keeping desks clear of any personal items when customers can see them) and thus can’t give an accommodation. If the company lets others express their personalities, religious people can too. Certainly, if a coworker asks another person in the company not to talk with him or her about his/her faith, then they need to stop. Continuing could be harassment.

Regarding supervisors, they must be careful not to inadvertently pressure subordinates or make them think they’ll get special treatment or access if they adopt the supervisors beliefs or, in this case, participate in the prayer initiative.

If a company allows employees to use company email for other personal initiatives, like announcing a car wash, or a gay pride march or a spontaneous happy hour, they should allow other personal requests. To single out religion as the only taboo topic could get the company into legal hot water.

Of course, if the company has a general policy against any personal announcements, then those of a religious nature would not be permitted. Even if someone has been out of line in a religious announcement, the best course of action may be to help people understand what’s appropriate and inappropriate rather than forbidding the topic altogether, thereby making religious employees feel like all other personal identities are acceptable except theirs.

Companies can forbid private, non-work meetings and gatherings on work premises. However, if they allow some non-work meetings, then they would be liable of religious discrimination if the forbid only religion-related meetings. Nevertheless, any meeting that leads to or involves harassment or exclusion of others would not be accommodated. For instance, a women’s empowerment meeting shouldn’t forbid men to join. Likewise a prayer meeting should turn anyone away due to their beliefs (religious or otherwise).

Follow this link for more resources including a video, and this link for in-company training related to workplace inclusion and diversity. Also, company’s can demonstrate their commitment to these values by signing the Corporate Pledge on Freedom of Religion or Belief.