HR Pros Deal With Denominational Diversity

June 26, 2001 ( Employers are reporting a greater diversity of religious preferences among workers and are increasingly being asked to accommodate those differences, according to a new survey.

The survey of some 552 human resource professionals found that more than a third (36%) said there are more religions represented in their workforce today than five years ago, while another 30% said the number was about the same.

The survey, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, shows that religious diversity is on the rise in organizations throughout the country.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs unless it creates an undue hardship for the employer.

Loosing My Religion

Nearly one in five of the survey respondents (19%) say that employees had proselytized to co-workers about religion, but just 9% said that employees felt harassed, while just 5% felt compelled to hide their religious beliefs.

The survey found that the most commonly requested religious accommodations by employees included:

  • 55% – decorating office space for religious holidays
  • 36% – flexible scheduling for religious observances

Still, while more than two-thirds (67%) of employers say they offer flexible scheduling for religious observances, only 36% say they had received requests for that accommodation.

Extra Accommodations

Employers say they had offered:

  • 95% – special decoration of office space for religious holidays
  • 75% – display of religious materials in employees’ workspace
  • 68% – ensuring that decorations accommodate the interests of a diverse workforce

The survey noted that while the third most requested accommodation was consideration of religious needs when providing food for employees (28%), this accommodation was well down the list (seventh) of those offered by employers (50%). Also, while having a written policy on religious holiday leave was in the top four requested accommodations (20%), it ranked eleventh on the list of accommodations offered by employers (22%).