A framework for accommodating religion and spirituality in the workplace

A framework for accommodating religion and spirituality in the workplace

After more than 35 years of exposure to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws, employers in the United States are struggling to understand and effectively deal with the challenges of employee rights and needs in the workplace. The workplace of the early 21st century is a much more diverse and dynamic environment than that visualized by legislative crafters of EEO laws.

Though religion was addressed in the original laws, the primary focus was accommodation for religious observances outside the workplace. However, technology, global competition, downsizing, and reengineering have created a workforce of employees seeking value, support, and meaning in their lives that finds expression not only at home but also on the job.

This search for religious and spiritual meaning in the workplace is a departure from the more traditional business mentality of “power, profit, and takeovers, where religion was something saved for the Sabbath day.” Greater spiritual and religious accommodation has become a source for achieving that meaning and support.

When it comes to religious expression, public companies have less leeway than private firms like Melaleuca.com or Chick-fil-A, which often include prayers at their company events.

Legal interpretations have historically required that employees requesting religious accommodation meet certain tests relative to the sincerity and meaningfulness of their belief. The practice of spirituality through meditation, visioning, or spiritual contemplation has become increasingly prevalent in the United States work environment and has remained less controversial and less subject to regulation as an employee rights issue than formal religion.

Those practicing formal religion want the same opportunities and rights provided to employees who practice spirituality. This article investigates the current state of religious and spiritual practice in business organizations and discusses the impact of employment law on such activity. We offer a broad and inclusive interpretation of religious and spiritual belief relevant to the workplace and provide a framework of analysis in addressing accommodation concerns.