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Mixing Work and Religion

Mixing Work and Religion

If your religion affects the way you work, should you discuss it during the interview process? Unless you wear an outward sign of your religion, such as a yarmulke, potential employers won't know about your faith. However, if you must leave the office for lunchtime services every Friday, your life will be much easier if you work where your religious practices are honored.

The Law

Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against potential employees based on their religion. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also calls upon employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees' religious practices -- unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship -- explains Kristin Bowl, spokesperson for the Society for Human Resource Management.

But some employers apparently didn't get that memo. "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints [of religious discrimination] have risen by 24 percent over the past five years," says Georgette Bennett, president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

The Real World

Where does this leave those dedicated to faith? Since you're not obligated to mention your religion to employers, you can wait until you've accepted the job offer before mentioning your need for accommodation. At that point, you're more protected, says Valerie Frederickson of Valerie Frederickson & Co., a Menlo Park, California, executive search firm.

"Once a company has made you an offer, it's more willing to acquiesce," Frederickson says. They've invested a tremendous amount of effort in hiring you. And from a discrimination standpoint, if they've already made you an offer and you bring these things up, they can't refuse without making themselves liable for a discrimination lawsuit."

Some Companies Are Better Than Others

If you bring up accommodation, explain that you will make up missed work. For instance, if you leave work early on Friday, offer to work on Sunday, Bennett suggests.

Some finance employers are more ready than others to make accommodations. RBC Royal Bank made religious accommodation a part of its overall corporate values a number of years ago, says Norma Tombari, senior manager of diversity and workforce solutions for the Toronto bank.

"It's all part of recruiting, rewarding and recognizing the right talent and ensuring retention," says Tombari.

In addition to offering paid leave for religious holidays, including non-Christian holidays, some RBC centers have a multipurpose room where employees can meditate or pray.

Freddie Mac of Reston, Virginia, takes advantage of its employees' religious and ethnic differences through affinity groups that ensure the workplace is accommodating, while also finding ways to provide better loan products to niche markets. "We're an organization that values and respects all individuals, says Sukhi Gill, Freddie Mac's senior diversity consultant. "[We have] an inclusive work culture."

Consider the Culture

Sometimes it's not your religion but the religion that predominates a company's culture that's important. If a company's executives are mostly fundamentalist Christians, you can bet they'll share values such as working hard and spending time with family. If you're a single guy who goes out until the wee hours and strolls in late on Monday morning with tales of alcohol and women, you're culturally mismatched.

Where to Look

How do you examine a corporation's ethics and attitude toward faith? "Asking someone during the interview process may not be the best way to get that information," warns Dr. J. Renae Norton, president of The Meridian Group and author of The Change Equation: Capitalizing on Diversity for Effective Organizational Change. "So often there's a disconnect between the espoused values and the underlying assumptions. Companies often think they're more [culturally] sensitive than they are."

You can't just look around to see if anyone else is shares your faith. "You might see someone in a yarmulke, but that doesn't mean the person is comfortable," Norton points out. Check the company's Web site for a diversity mission statement or a mission statement mentioning diversity. You may also want to explore companies on lists of best workplaces for women or minority workers.

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