Spiritual diversity

The diversity of the nation’s work force continues to increase, from our ethnic backgrounds to the religions we practice.

D. Lewis Clark Jr. senior associate with Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP in Columbus, says there are five times more practicing Muslims in the United States today than there were 30 years ago, and 10 times more practicing Buddhists. While this diversity makes for an interesting workplace, it also raises questions for managers and supervisors.

“There are a variety of scenarios that can come up, such as an employee that wants to observe the Sabbath, or facial hair or garments that conflict with the company dress code,” Clark says.

Employers may find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they try to be sensitive to all their employees’ needs. The good news is that managers don’t have to be theologians or legal experts to make thoughtful decisions on these issues.

“It is important to become informed about the beliefs of the employee,” says Clark. “Find out what the holiday means and its significance.”

According to U.S. law, employers are required to accommodate an employee’s request based on religion as long as it doesn’t infringe on other employees’ rights. In other words, says Clark, “a manager cannot make one employee work a shift in place of the employee that has requested the day off to observe a religious holiday.”

Clark advises employers to examine each request individually and gather all the facts before making a decision.

“Every situation is unique,” he says. “All fact patterns are different. Examine the beliefs and analyze what you are able to do to provide an accommodation.”

Clark says the bottom line is that employees have the right to ask — and as long as the accommodation does not present an undue hardship on the company or other employees, it should be granted. How to reach: D. Lewis Clark Jr., Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP, (614) 365-2700