In the face of rising bias and hate, corporations, some of the most powerful forces in our society, have a vital role to play in fostering coexistence. Intolerance of religious minorities has been growing at an alarming rate in America. According to the FBI, attacks motivated by bias or prejudice recently reached a 12-year high. Nearly 60% of religion-based hate crime in the U.S. targeted Jews and Jewish institutions, more than any other religious group.
Companies should pay attention to religious coexistence, not only because of its social impact but because it affects business operations. Research shows companies with robust equity policies and practices generate greater worker productivity and increase talent retention. For example, employees at companies that provide flexible hours for religious observance are more than twice as likely to look forward to coming to work. Workers whose companies offer education programs, town hall forums, and leadership training around diversity and flexibility for religious practice report higher job satisfaction. Companies that have supported religious coexistence are promoting worker productivity, by cultivating the best possible workplace environment for employees to thrive.
Corporations also face unique risks by failing to confront intolerance and discrimination against religious minorities. When Abercrombie & Fitch refused to hire a Muslim employee because she wore a hijab that conflicted with the company’s “Look Policy,” the Supreme Court ruled the company’s choice unconstitutional. When Walmart refused a Seventh Day Adventist’s request to avoid working from sundown on Fridays to sundown Saturdays so he could observe the Sabbath as his religion requires, the company faced a lawsuit from the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. And most recently, a jury awarded a dishwasher at the Conrad Hotel in Miami $21 million after she was forced to work on the day of the week that she had repeatedly told management her religion precluded working.
But religious coexistence goes beyond just antidiscrimination. Companies have an opportunity to use their power to foster religious coexistence, accommodate the needs of religious minorities, and help prevent further growth of bias and hate.
JLens Recommended Best Practices
Since 2019, JLens has been a leading voice on religious coexistence with corporations. Through extensive research and engagement with hundreds of companies over the past two years, JLens has identified a set of best practices for religious coexistence in the workplace:
Employee Resource Groups (ERG): encourage faith-based and multicultural ERGs. These groups (most companies also have cultural- or ethnic-based groups as well) serve as a support mechanism for minority groups as well as an opportunity for employees of that group to organize together and strategize ways for the company as a whole to be more accommodating and embracing of diversity.
Anti-Discrimination: affirm commitments to anti-discrimination in company policies including offering unconcious bias trainings to employees that highlight religious discrimination.
Products and Services: create procedures to manage potential intolerance or bigotry in the corporation’s products and services.
Floating Holidays: provide employees with floating holidays to enable holiday leave (at least 3-5), and a clear process for taking additional holiday time off.
Dress Policies: ensure that employee dress policies explicitly allow employees to dress according to religious imperatives.
Food Sensitivities: Offer kosher, halal, or at minimum vegetarian meals in company cafeterias.
Prayer Space: provide dedicated prayer or reflection spaces.
Companies should share these policies with their entire workforce and ensure they are consistent across managers, instead of placing the burden on an individual employee to negotiate and advocate with their manager for accommodation. To truly embody best practices, companies should disclose these policies publicly.