Get access to the exclusive HR Resources you need to succeed in 2018.
Sign up for free email newsletters and get more SHRM content delivered to your inbox.
Is your employee handbook keeping up with the changing world of work? With SHRM's Employee Handbook Builder get peace of mind that your handbook is up-to-date.
Build competencies, establish credibility and advance your career—while earning PDCs—at SHRM Seminars in 14 cities across the U.S. this fall.
Gain the skills you need to rise to the next level in your career. Jon us at SHRM's Leadership Development Forum, October 2-3 in Boston.
Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.
Know the basic workplace issues linked to Islam. They are daily prayers; clothing; religious holidays; the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia; and the month of fasting for Ramadan. The Council on American-Islamic Relations specializes in workplace training and its lawyers strive to mediate and educate on these issues rather than litigate complaints, says Taneeza Islam, civil rights director of the council in Minneapolis.
Examine your accommodation policy critically. Make sure it’s fair and nonjudgmental. “I have been stunned by some policies, including one at a Fortune 100 company that requires a worker seeking accommodation to fill out a form and have it approved by clergy,” says Georgette Bennett, president and founder of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding in New York City and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Workplace Diversity Special Expertise Panel.
“The employer doesn’t have to provide an accommodation if it presents an undue burden, but the burden can’t be hypothetical,” says P. David Lopez, general counsel of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C. “Facts must be presented to sustain undue hardship.”
Create an anti-harassment policy. Provide examples. Investigate promptly, and act appropriately. Set up a grievance process. “Sometimes employers get burned by horseplay among workers that goes too far,” Lopez says. ”It’s bullying, and employers need to take it seriously.”
Provide training and education. Managers should learn about Islam, understand employers’ responsibility to make reasonable accommodations and take the company’s diversity policy seriously. Bennett cites a company that created a prayer room for all employees to use—only to be confronted by Christians complaining that Muslims were monopolizing the space. “Had they known that Muslims are required to pray five times a day, they would have understood. It’s all about contact and communication,” she says.
Blend some humor into your education programs, advises Ameena Jandali, content director for the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, Calif.
Emphasize self-control in interpersonal relationships. “We have those irrational tapes in our head—you can’t erase them,” says Lobna “Luby” Ismail, president of Connecting Cultures LLC in Silver Spring, Md. “But when you’re working side by side, you’ve got to push pause on the tape. Keeping it running may cause you to discriminate or may lead to a lawsuit.”
Be approachable, flexible and reasonable. If an employee comes to you and requests accommodation, ask for suggestions. Be flexible, advises attorney Sheeva J. Ghassemi-Vanni at Fenwick & West LLP: “If you have a ‘no facial hair’ policy and have authorized exceptions, a reasonable religious accommodation would be to allow it for religious reasons. If you think you may have to deny a request for undue hardship, get advice from counsel first.”
Think of diversity as a leadership issue. HR professionals have to “get past ‘Let’s accommodate religion’ as a problem matter, to ‘Let’s make people feel a part of this place,’ ” says Douglas Hicks, professor of leadership studies and religion at the University of Richmond in Virginia and author of Religion and the Workplace (Cambridge University Press, 2003). “Creating a culture where people are not marginalized requires you to move beyond accommodation and nondiscrimination.”
Don’t pretend that religion is not an issue. You don’t want to force Muslims to be nonobservant at work. “Embrace them, and do so officially,” urges Kent Johnson, Texas Instruments’ senior counsel. Consider starting an employee group. And stick to your guns if you experience pushback from other employees.
Put the “D”-word on the back burner. At Texas Instruments, Terry Howard, director of diversity and inclusion, has been moving away from large-scale sensitivity training and refrains from using the word “diversity.”
Instead, he has rebranded diversity as an aspect of leadership and defines himself as a coach that executives can turn to. Diversity conferences became “routine, bye-bye, see-you-next-year events. Instead, three years ago, we introduced leadership learning labs,” Howard says. Senior leaders build content from these twice-yearly sessions into their action plans.
Link inclusion and reducing discrimination to the bottom line. Frequently, employers justify funding diversity work as a way to avoid litigation, but that misses an important point, Bennett says. “Religious accommodation and creating a religiously inclusive workforce has a measureable impact on turnover costs, productivity and marketing success. Metrics that would strengthen the case are challenging to develop but worth the effort,” she notes. “For example, at American Express, part of a manager’s evaluation is based on the extent that he or she has contributed to reducing perceptions of discrimination. It’s factored in and weighed in assessing performance.”
Put yourself in their shoes. If you have a group pizza party, one pizza without pepperoni goes a long way, advises attorney Adil Khan of Greenberg Traurig LLP.
The author, a contributing editor of HR Magazine, is a lawyer and a professor of management studies at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please sign in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred
Recommended for you
Join SHRM's exclusive peer-to-peer social network
SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies