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Most religions prescribe practices concerning prayer, diet, personal behavior, holidays, and even dress. Respecting an individual’s religious beliefs is deeply rooted in our American culture, yet at times religion can have an impact on the workplace that needs to be addressed cooperatively between the employee and management. For example, many organizations hiring Somalis have made significant efforts to accommodate their need to pray during the workday. Such steps can only occur if management understands the cultural significance of the employee’s faith while the employee respects the employer’s need for productivity.

Question: How can we acknowledge diverse religious holidays in the workplace?
Every cultural group has celebrations and holidays to mark important religious and social events. These events may or may not correspond to Christian or American holidays. One solution is to have a general holiday party in organization incorporating different food and customs. Allowing employees the opportunity to share their culture at the workplace — an equivalent of a Christmas party — promotes workplace understanding and respect.

Question: Why is there water on the floor in the employee bathroom?
The five prayers required for a Muslim each day require a “cleansing of the body” or ablutions — washing the face, hands, feet and genitalia. To the dismay of the employer and non-Muslim co-workers, a bathroom sink may be the only option for the employee performing this ritual. It might be necessary to designate a sink for this purpose to better accommodate employees’ prayer rituals and create a cleaner bathroom. Another potential solution to keep bathroom sinks clean and to prevent water from splashing onto bathroom floors is to place a plastic kettle or bucket in the bathroom. Muslim employees who desire to pray can be requested to use these items. Another possible solution is to request that the employees clean up after themselves. Note, however, that the employees would need to return to this task after prayer, as cleaning up after themselves right away would defeat the purpose of purification before prayer.

Question: Do all Muslim employees pray five times a day?
Don’t assume all Muslims have the same religious practices. In all religions there is a continuum of religious practice and beliefs.

Question: Do I need to provide a place for my employees to pray?
RefugeeWorks, a publication of the National Center for Refugee Employment and Self-Sufficiency, has the following to say about this issue:

“Requests for religious accommodation in the workplace are on the increase, requiring employers to demonstrate not only tolerance but also knowledge of employee and employer rights and responsibilities in order to avoid discriminatory practices. If an employee identifies a need for religious accommodation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission technical assistance publication ‘Religious Discrimination’ advises the employer to take the following steps:

  • Inquire as to the nature of the employee’s beliefs
  • Consider the nature of the conflict between the employee’s religious beliefs and his job obligations.
  • Consider the burdens on business created by possible accommodations.
  • Offer an accommodation unless such an accommodation would cause an undue hardship.”

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