When religious needs test company policy

Companies find that accommodating the faith needs of workers can be a delicate issue. The increasing visibility of religion in society, from a president who speaks openly about his faith to the proliferation of religious television programming, has consequences in the workplace. Increasing demands are placed on companies to create environments that are comfortable and welcoming for employees of all faiths — and of none. It is a matter of retaining employees and avoiding lawsuits. Complaints of religious discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased 20 percent, to 2,541, from 2001 to 2006. The figures of discrimination unreported may be much higher. Research by the Tanenbaum Center indicates that only 23 percent of employees who believe they are experiencing religious bias complain — but of those who feel that way, 45 percent are looking for new jobs. Employers are required by law to make substantial accommodations for their employees’ religious practices, as long as doing so does not create a major hardship for them. Company responses are diverse. Some companies serve as hosts of employee-run groups that hold discussions on different faiths and the like. Other companies take a more hands-off. Particular areas of tension include photo id’s for veiled women, prayer rooms, and religious symbols worn visibly over company uniforms. Clashes sometimes end in litigation; otherwise, companies work discretely with employees toward resolution.