Religion and the workplace: ever the two should meet?

The U.S. workplace is becoming increasingly prone to religious expression. More workers (and owners and managers) are expressing their religious views at or in connection with their work. The reasons are many and varied (and rather debatable). For example, we spend more time at work; the workplace has become more central to our lives and in many instances invaded our homes; and electronic systems and other communication tools have become prevalent and expanded our reach and experience.

The growing presence of religion in the workplace has raised a number of legal questions for employers. Employers wonder whether and to what extent the presence of religion is appropriate and lawful, how and whether they must accommodate employees with differing (and perhaps even extreme) religious beliefs, and what changes in workplace policies and procedures are necessary. The answers to these questions lie in decades-old legislation and a growing body of court decisions interpreting and applying that legislation.

The fundamental issues

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of a person's religion and requires employers to "reasonably accommodate" employees' religious beliefs. These protections mirror and expand on the basic religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

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