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Workplace Guideposts

Which forms of religious expression are acceptable on the job and which are not? Here are some unofficial rules.

April 06, 1998|MELINDA FULMER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Decades ago, a calendar with the Lord's prayer or an employee's small Star of David medal were likely to be the only traces of religion that showed up on the job. Today the work force has become much more diverse, and companies are straining to accommodate and protect the wide variety of employee beliefs.

Both the private sector and government have yet to define which forms of religious expression are acceptable in the workplace and which are not. There are few official guideposts to follow, except the federal workplace rules issued by the Clinton administration last year. But many religious groups feel these rules only further confuse certain issues and invite attack from other religious groups. So what's a boss to do?

Human resources experts and employee-rights attorneys say that at the very least, companies must make an effort to accommodate their employees' religious practices, such as wearing a turban or a cross or reading religious texts. And they must also protect employees of different religions from harassment and discrimination.

When this personal spiritual expression affects work efficiency and begins to cost the company money, however, it has crossed the line, said attorney Frank Cronin of Snell & Wilmer in Irvine. To help managers and employees get a handle on proper behavior, Cronin and other workplace experts helped The Times compile the following unofficial list of what's acceptable and what's not:

1. Acceptable

Keeping a copy of the Koran or Bible on your desk to read on your lunch break.

Unacceptable

A supervisor quoting from the Bible when he is conducting an employee's review.

2. Acceptable

Thumb-tacking an "Easy Does It" bumper sticker from Alcoholics Anonymous above your desk.

Unacceptable

Hanging a huge "Jesus Saves" poster on your cubicle wall. (Avoid large displays that might distract other workers.)

3. Acceptable

Asking a co-worker if he has "found Jesus Christ."

Unacceptable

Slipping religious tracts in a co-worker's in-box, desk drawers and work files, so she'll "have" to read them.

4. Acceptable

Telling an atheist colleague that he is going to go straight to hell.

Unacceptable

Constantly telling an atheist colleague he is going to go to hell (repeating such remarks may be considered harassment or threatening behavior).

5. Acceptable

Asking for Jewish High Holy Days off.

Unacceptable

Asking for paid vacation days for the Jewish holidays.

6. Acceptable

Employees of a particular religion meet weekly in an empty conference room for a lunchtime prayer session.

Unacceptable

A supervisor holds a management training class that just happens to be preceded by a Christian prayer session.

7. Acceptable

Telling a fellow employee that she should consider converting to your religion.

Unacceptable

Greeting an employee of a different religion with, "Good morning, heathen."

8. Acceptable

Hanging a holiday wreath or placing a menorah in your office.

Unacceptable

Pushing a co-worker under the mistletoe or goading a Muslim co-worker to light your menorah.

9. Acceptable

Wearing a yarmulke, crucifix or Star of David to work.

Unacceptable

Chanting in your work area.

10. Acceptable

A supervisor invites employees to her son's bar mitzvah.

Unacceptable

A supervisor questions an employee about why she didn't see him in church on Sunday.

11. Acceptable

A boss says a prayer at a dinner party he hosts for other employees at his house.

Unacceptable

Opening a sales meeting with a prayer for the unborn children.

12. Acceptable

Asking retail employees to work during the holidays, as long as it is corporate policy that all employees must work.

Unacceptable

Forcing Sabbatarians such as Orthodox Jews and Seventh-day Adventists to work late on Friday nights.

13. Acceptable

Adopting a policy that restricts all religious slogans on T-shirts and other articles of clothing.

Unacceptable

Requiring a Sikh to cut his long hair to meet corporate dress codes.

14. Acceptable

Offering workers flexibility in their work hours to adapt to their prayer schedules.

Unacceptable

Giving workers of a certain religion preferential consideration in promotions.

15. Acceptable

Telling a fellow employee that you will say a prayer for her, her sick child or her financial situation.

Unacceptable

Repeatedly telling a co-worker that her personal troubles are caused by a lack of faith.

16. Acceptable

Asking employees to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Unacceptable

Requiring a Jehovah's Witness to take a loyalty oath that contradicts his beliefs.

17. Acceptable

Talking around the water cooler about religion (unless corporate policy forbids it).

Unacceptable

Planning corporate religious retreats.

18. Acceptable

Refusing to hire someone because she can't work the hours required of the job.

Unacceptable

Refusing to hire a pagan because he is a pagan.

19. Acceptable

Posting a flier on the bulletin board advertising a church bake sale.

Unacceptable

Using corporate time and materials to print church fliers and programs.

20. Acceptable

Exempting a worker from a specific task if it contradicts his core beliefs.

Unacceptable

Using derogatory language to describe to other employees why a specific worker is excused.

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