Diversity Sensitivity for Employers

 

diversity on employee screening blogChances are your company has become more diverse over the years, based on the changing demographics of the US population. Being sensitive to cultural differences between you and your employees is not only important, but it could keep you out of legal trouble, as well. 

With charges of religious discrimination in the workplace on the rise, here are some general guidelines you might consider. These examples are based on recent courtroom cases, and should not be construed as legal advice.

Be careful about dress and personal appearance codes. In the District of Columbia, a federal court ruled that firefighters cannot be forced to be clean shaven. The case began around concerns that respirators won’t fit the bearded firefighters properly. Those who wear beards for religious reasons were ruled to be exempt from the policy. 

Consider your company’s dress code, and how it applies to workers who wear head coverings or other religious dress. Courts would unlikely to find favor with an employer shown to be discriminating against employees for facial hair or religious dress. If an employee’s appearance does not affect their work, it’s best to leave the issue alone.

Be aware of what makes for a hostile work environment, and require your employees to be respectful to all co-workers. One worker sued her company after management ignored her requests for fair treatment. Her co-workers had repeatedly yelled at her when they could not understand her English. The court ruled against the employer on grounds of a hostile workplace after it found she demonstrated enough knowledge of English to do her job and ruled the co-workers were harassing the complainant.

Be flexible about days off. Don’t assume that all your employees share your faith or that everyone celebrates the same holidays. Respect your workers who request days off for religious holidays—even if you are unfamiliar with them. Communicate with all of your employees to create solutions that will work for both the business and the staff. Swapping days off or instituting floating holidays for everyone are two possibilities to consider.

Speaking of holidays, how does an employer celebrate holidays without offending employees? Whether your staff celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Ramadan—or nothing at all—must be taken into consideration. You will add to your employees’ job satisfaction and loyalty when you demonstrate your respect of their religious beliefs. 

At holiday time, instead of giving Christmas cards or bonuses, avoid singling out one religion by renaming  them “year end bonuses.” Instead of decorating a Christmas tree, honor diverse customs by allowing employees to bring in personal holiday mementoes, or to decorate a space together. Those individuals who do not wish to participate should never be forced to or treated any differently.  

If you’re an employer, read up on cultural diversity, or take a class if offered in your local community college. All companies can provide education to help managers learn about and model sensitivity to their workers’ religious beliefs and cultural differences. Remember, it is up to the employer to ensure that all employees are respectful of their co-workers, and to stop any harassing or insensitive actions when they occur. 

 

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