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ol Managemenl ExecuJ/ve, 2000, Vol. 14, No.

A framework for
accommodating religion and
spirituality in the workplace
Kaien C. Cash and George R. Gray
Executive Overview ' '--i
After more than 35 years of exposure to Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) laws,
employers in the United States are struggling to understand and effectively deal with the
challenges of employee rights and needs in the workplace. The workplace of the early
2V* century is a much more diverse and dynamic environment than that visualized by
legislative crafters oi EEO laws. Though religion was addressed in the original laws, the
primary focus was accommodation for religious observances outside the workplace.
However, technology, global conipetition, downsizing, and reengineering have created a
workforce of employees seeking value, support, and meaning in their lives that finds
expression not only at home but also on the job. This search for religious and spiritual
meaning In the workplace is a departure from the more traditional business mentality of
"power, profit, and takeovers, where religion was something saved for the Sabbath day,"'
Greater spiritual and religious accommodation has become a source for achieving that
meaning and support.
Legal interpretations have historicaUy required that employees requesting religious
accommodation meet certain tests relative to the sincerity and meaningfulness of their
belief. The practice of spirituality through meditation, visioning, or spiritual
contemplation has become increasingly prevalent in the United States work environment
and has remained less controversial and less subject to regulation as an employee rights
issue than formal religion. Those practicing formal religion want the same opportunities
and rights provided to employees who practice spirituality. This article investigates the
current state of religious and spiritual practice in business organizations and discusses
the impact of employment law on such activity. We offer a broad and incJusiVe
interpretation of religious and spiritual belief relevant to the workplace and provide a
framework of analysis in addressing accommodation concerns.
Current Views of Religion and Spirituality in the
Business periodicals are filled with articles her-
alding both the renewed interest in religion and
the growing emphasis on spirituality in society in
general and in the workplace. Religious and spir-
itual materials that include new age, Christian,
Jewish, and Muslim publications were the fastest
growing segment in adult publishing for 1996 and
1997.^ Religious radio stations have quadrupled
over the past 25 years, while religious television
shows increased fourfold In the 1980s.^ Corporate
chaplains who number in the thousands represent
a booming industry, and careers related to spiritu-
ality and counseling in the workplace continue to
gain in importance.^
The causes cited for this stirring of religion and
spirituality in the workplace are numerous; how-
ever, many authors point to a growing diversity in
the general population and in the workplace as a
major factor. One aspect of this growing diversity
has been the dramatic increase in the various
types of formal and informal religious and spiri-
tual expression practiced by members of the work-
force. More than 1,500 primary religious organiza-
tions were represented in the United States in
1998.S While 90 percent of the U.S. population is
•200(J Cash and Gray 125
Christian, there are growing numbers of Islamic,
Buddhist, and Hindu Americans, and Islam may
soon supplant Judaism as the second largest faith.^
While 90 percent of the U.S. population is
Christian, there are growing numbers of
Islamic. Buddhist, and Hindu Americans,
and Islam may soon supplant ]udaisni as
the second largest faith.
To some extent, most faiths prescribe the behav-
ior of their members outside their place of worship.
Religious faith with more traditional teachings,
such as Islam, actively promote a blurring be-
tween religion and the external political, social,
and legal environment. Such groups appear to be
growing faster than some mainstream religions, in
part because of their emphasis on self-control and
responsibility in a society perceived by many as
plagued by the breakdown of the family, an in-
crease in pornography, and a lack of respect for
authority.^ Cal Thomas, an evangelical political
columnist, supports this concept of a blurring be-
tween religion and one's external environment by
asserting that "all of life is religious—economic,
relational, political."^ Indeed, human resource pro-
fessionals report dealing with increasing numbers
of employees with problems that seem to cross the
lines between the spiritual, personal, and profes-
Many employees appear to be searching for
greater meaning in their workplaces. This search
for meaning is intensified by concerns over such
workplace realities as technology and the restruc-
turing of organizations. As a case in point, baby
boomers, a large segment of the current workforce,
came of age during the idealistic 1960s and 1970s,
and are now reaching middle age.'° Their experi-
ence with recent nationwide downsizing and job
insecurity has encouraged reflection and self-
examination at the midpoint of their lives. Between
1982 and 1993, four million jobs were eliminated by
fortune 500 firms." Such job cuts exacted a severe
emotional toll from affected employees and fami-
lies, as well as from coworkers and managers who
remained in their organizations.
Stephen Boehlke, a Princeton-trained theologian
and consultant, points to the "tension that exists be-
tween the individual experience of spirit and the
demands of leadership in business today."'^ Manag-
ers face the dilemma of being forced by cost-cutting
pressures to let employees go and yet accomplish
the same amount of work in an insecure, unstable
environment plagued by continued downsizing, re-
engineering, and constantly changing technology.
The resultant fear, frustration, anger, and isolation'^
that many workers experience have led significant
numbers to no longer trust business, feel as though
they have no anchor,'* and believe employers treat
them as objects expendable in the process of maxi-
mizing profits.'^
Some authors suggest that the feelings of distrust
have become so pervasive that many workers in the
United States feel abused not only by their employ-
ers, but also by a society that increases workers'
feelings of alienation.'^ Many fear losing their jobs,
getting cancer, being the victims of violence, and
dying alone. They hunger for a deeper meaning to
life." This hunger may well find expression in peo-
ple's desire for a stronger integration of their spiri-
tual and work identities. This desire is reflected in
requests for workplace accommodations. The Society
for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reports
1996 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) statistics indicating that the most common
type of requested religious accommodation provided
for in 1996 was time off for religious observances.'^
However, an increasing number of employees
are requesting more nontraditional accommoda-
tions. In the SHRM survey, display of religious mate-
rials in the workplace was the second most frequent
type of religious accommodation requested, followed
by requests for space and time for religious obser-
vance, study, or discussion during work breaks.'^
Other requests involved wearing religious dress or
jewelry at work and proselytizing to coworkers.
The SHRM report is quite consistent with data
provided by Forfune 1000 companies in a survey on
diversity in the workplace conducted by the au-
thors in 1997.^° Company-sponsored diversity pro-
grams had been established in 62 percent of the 55
responding firms, with 59 percent of those having
diversity programs specifically addressing reli-
gious diversity. Various methods for addressing
religious diversity included promoting a general
awareness of religious diversity, discussing reli-
gious stereotypes, and conducting fair employ-
ment training in religious discrimination and ac-
commodation. One of the most interesting findings
was that 40 percent of company representatives
believed that religious principles and values were
an integral part of their organization's culture.
Ninety-one percent of the firms reported that
they provide reasonable accommodation for em-
ployees to observe religious requirements such as
holidays, and 57 percent provide leaves of absence
for mission or other religious work. Many of these
firms have not yet received requests for such leave
and therefore have not encountered any problems.
The wearing of religious symbols or dress was
126 Academy of Management Executive
accommodated in 87 percent of the firms. However, at
least one respondent noted that this accommodation
was allowed only if it did not interfere with the stan-
dard corporate uniform or appearance. Regarding
informal gatherings to discuss religious or spiritual
interests, 65 percent of firm representatives stated
that they did not address this issue in their policies.
Business periodicals indicate that participation
by workers in employee groups that meet regularly
for religious study in restaurants, conference
rooms, or living rooms is a growing trend. Drew
Crandall, New England director of the Fellowship
of Companies for Christ International, reports that
approximately 10,000 small companies—^250 in the
New England area—participate in ongoing Bible
study and other religious activities.^' Another orga-
nization, the Pittsburgh Experiment, is a 40-year-old
Christian workplace ministry with about 40 affiliated
groups, some of which meet weekly at Christian pre-
work breakfasts in prayer and support gatherings
emphasizing love, encouragement, and the concept
of "a God with you through other people."22 In a
Manhattan business community, a lewish Theologi-
cal Seminary rabbi discusses confronting life's daily
ethical dilemmas with a monthly Old Testament Bi-
ble study group of 20 business leaders.^^
With increasing frequency, employees are re-
questing to move such informal gatherings to the
workplace and are petitioning nonparticipating
coworkers and managers for the right to meet in
conference rooms and other work locations.^^ For
example, the World Bank permits Muslim Sisters to
meet in conference rooms to pray during lunch, and
also permits informal Bible study meetings.^
With increasing frequency, employees
are requesting to move such informal
gatherings to the workplace and are
petitioning nonparticipating coworkers
and managers for the right to meet in
conference rooms and other work
While the main focus of religious concern in the
workplace has been formal religion, there is a grow-
ing emphasis on the practice of spirituality or other
forms of informal religion. Most writers advocating
spirituality in the workplace are quick to point out
that spirituality is very different from the practice of
formal religions that have organizational structures
and specific rites and rigors associated with them.
Some authors have defined spirituality using
such terms as energy, meaning, and knowing, and
have relied heavily on Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu,
Zen, and Native American traditions to describe
concepts that integrate all aspects of a person's
life from work to leisure.^^ Others list such exam-
ples of spirituality as existentialism (individual
freedom and responsibility with an absence of su-
pernatural authority), new age, guided meditation
techniques,^'' imaging, visioning, relaxation, and
focusing.2^ Other practices in spirituality focus on
ecology and avenues for becoming more spiritu-
ally attuned to the environment and more con-
cerned for the Earth and all its species.^^
There is little evidence to suggest that the
present business environment of high technology,
fierce global competition, and corporate strategies
to rightsize, realign, and reengineer will change,
or that businesses will, in the short run, solve the
problems associated with the fallout. Therefore, it
is reasonable to expect that employees will con-
tinue to seek other avenues to cope with workplace
realities that may well involve spiritual and reli-
gious practice. As a result, managers will continue
to face challenges in responding to requests for
religious and spiritual accommodation.
Sincere and Meaningful Beliefs
Legal interpretation
Advocates of spirituality in the work environment
often view spirituality and religion as very differ-
ent concepts; while they generally oppose the pro-
motion of formal religion in the workplace, they
openly defend spirituality as a workplace practice.
They assert that spirituality looks inward to an
awareness of universal values while formal reli-
gion looks outward, using formal rites and scrip-
ture.^^ Some argue that the traditional idea of spir-
ituality has been enlarged far beyond a foundation
in religious tradition.^' Spirituality has been de-
scribed as concern with the "deeper, more mysteri-
ous part of our being," as compared with religion,
defined as an "institutionalized system of attitudes,
beliefs and practices related to the service and wor-
ship of God or the supernatural.''^^ However, we be-
lieve that to treat religion and spirituality as mutu-
ally exclusive concepts is problematic.
The First Amendment of the Constitution states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an estab-
lishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof."^^ Courts have tried, with limited success, for
nearly 60 years to define and interpret exactly what
constitutes religious belief. Beginning in 1944 with
United States v Ballard. the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
that "religious experiences which are real as life to
some may be incomprehensible to others," arguing
that local boards and courts were not to rule on
"comprehensibility," but rather on whether beliefs
-200Cf Cash and Gray
were sincerely held and in the individual's "own
scheme of things."^^ In a 1965 case. United States v
Seager, the court supported Congress's deiinition of
religion as including "all aspects of religious obser-
vance and practice as well as belief."^^ Finally, in
Walsh V the United States, the court further ruled that
"a sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in
the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled
by the God of those admittedly qualifying for the
exemption comes within the statutory definition."^^
Courts have tried, with limited success,
for nearly 60 years to define and
interpret exactly what constitutes
religious belief.
While the federal courts attempted to define re-
ligious beliefs in more practical terms, they also
appeared to broaden the scope of the definition to
include much more than formalized religious prac-
tice. "A sincere and meaningful belief" could well
encompass any number of strongly held beliefs
and values that mainstream society would not im-
mediately recognize as religious.
The EEOC has historically promulgated guide-
lines that, to a great extent, parallel and supplement
the decisions of the Supreme Court and appear to
clearly support nondifferentiation of formal religion
and spirituality. The EEOC states that "the fact that
no religious group espouses such beliefs or the fact
that the religious group to which the individual pro-
fesses to belong may not accept such belief will not
determine whether the belief is a religious belief of
the employee or prospective employee."^^ The EE-
OC's guidelines appear to further weaken the link
between belief and a specific religion.
Practical application
Inherent in any practical definition of a "sincere
and meaningful belief" is the concept of values.
Webster's College Thesaurus provides the follow-
ing synonyms for values: beliefs, ideals, stan-
dards, code of ethics, moral code, customs, and
rules.^^ While proponents of spirituality argue that
"the spiritual concepts of . . . trust, harmony, . . .
values, mission, honesty and cooperation come
from religious traditions, but are not the sole byprod-
uct of any one of them,"^^ for many people of religious
faith, values are intrinsically woven into their reli-
gious faith and training. For people of religious faith,
separating their faith from their moral values might
well be impossible. For other individuals, their sin-
cere and meaningful beliefs may be rooted in value
systems or in a spirituality based upon something
other than formal mainstream religions.
The use by practitioners of religion and spiritu-
ality of such common terms as support, ethics, mor-
als, beliefs, mission, values, spiritual contempla-
tion, and community involvement makes the
distinction between the two practices difficult to
explain, much less justify. Consequently, it is dif-
ficult to view nonreligiously determined values as
less suspect in the workplace than those that are
religiously determined. Equally unjustifiable is the
notion that accommodation of spirituality should
be automatically provided, while accommodation
of religious observance should be forced to meet
the legal constraints of accommodation.
By forcing religious accommodations to meet legal
hurdles, business organizations actually promote
secular spirituality through such practices as busi-
ness retreats featuring nature walks, meditation, ex-
ercise sessions, spiritual contemplation, and by en-
couraging involvement in community service.'*'^
Corporate courses on such topics as miracles, sha-
manic journeying, and yoga;'*' workshops at compa-
nies such as Xerox and Motorola on meditation;"*^
and other company-sponsored training and develop-
ment programs may encourage participants to de-
fine their personal purposes, mission, and values,
and think about how they want to be perceived by
others. Through such programs, businesses provide
avenues for employees' spiritual expression, and
also make corporate America friendlier and more
creative.'*^ For many business leaders, requests for
participation in religious activities during work
breaks raise immediate red flags. However, these
same leaders will often promote spiritual practices
without considering the possible religious objections
of workers who may feel coerced into such activities.
We advocate an open, noncategorized interpre-
tation of the concept of belief, both religious and
secularly spiritual. We reinterpret religious belief
to include religious, spiritual, strongly held values
of whatever origin. The distinctions among reli-
gious beliefs, spiritual experiences, and strongly
held, secular, value-laden convictions are little
more than semantic. Leading authors have advo-
cated that employers "accept any sincerely held
belief based upon principles of what is right or
wrong—no matter how unusual—as a religious be-
lief."^^ This approach relieves the concerns of man-
agers attempting to make judgments about the
sincerity of employees' beliefs.
The issue of an employee's loss of privacy is
inherent in the current religious accommodation
process. While an employer may determine gender
and racial affiliation from unsolicited, visual cues,
information on religious affiliation in most cases
128 Academy of Management Executive August-
requires intrusion into the employee's personal
life. Requiring an employee to divulge to his em-
ployer his faith, and why an accommodation is
important to his faith, can raise the fear of future
harassment or discrimination.
Claims of religious harassment and discrimina-
tion are on the rise. The Society for Human Re-
sources Management reports EEOC statistics
showing religious discrimination complaints filed
by employees rose from 1,192 cases in 1991 to more
than 1,560 cases in 1996."*^ Therefore, it is very im-
portant that managers demonstrate to employees a
good faith attempt to permit the free exercise of
religion in the workplace while discouraging ha-
rassment and discrimination. Broadening the in-
terpretation of belief as advocated by our frame-
work releases managers from having to ask
personal questions or make value judgments that
may create doubt and suspicion in the minds of
Broadening fhe interpretation of belief as
advocated by our framework releases
managers from having to ask personal
questions or make value judgments that
may create doubt and suspicion in the
minds of employees.
Analyzing Religious and Spiritual Issues
The majority of business organizations focus on
efficiency and effectiveness to achieve product
quality, productivity, and profitability. Accommo-
dation is a potential barrier to these achievements
if not dealt with effectively within the context of
the organization's goals and objectives regarding
such production processes as scheduling, cus-
tomer service, and delivery. The organization must
first establish its own parameters of flexibility in
dealing with such religious and spiritual matters
as the observance of religious events and activi-
ties, the wearing of religious dress and symbols.
the personal interaction of coworkers, and the con-
duct of on-site religious or spiritual meetings. In
doing so, organizations should proactively seek
reasonable accommodation to religious and spiri-
tual needs within the context of their work pro-
cesses and production needs.
The EEOC interprets Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964'*^ as defining religious accommodation
to include "all aspects of religious observance and
practice, as well as belief, unless an employer
demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably ac-
commodate an employee's or prospective employ-
ee' s religious observance or practices without un-
due hardship on the conduct of the employer's
business."'*''' The definition incorporates obser-
vance accommodation and manifestation accom-
Categories of accommodation
Observances involve activities that include time
away from work to celebrate holidays, to com-
memorate traditional events, or to attend sabbath
day services, as well as leaves of absence to attend
religious or spiritual missions or retreats. Religious
or spiritual groups may exert a strong institutional
influence on followers to comply with observances
as a function of their continued membership within
the group. While understanding the impact of insti-
tutional influence on employees' desires for accom-
modation, the organization must address the subse-
quent impact of accommodation attempts on its
workflow and productivity.
Manifestation requests involve individuals' de-
sire to express their religious experience at work
and may result in requests to wear religious jew-
elry or dress or to discuss faith at work. Manifes-
tation requests may be institutionally driven or
may simply constitute the person's individual
mode of expressing religious or spiritual freedom.
Employees may not be required by their religious
institution to pray during lunchtime, but they may
choose to do so as part of their individual expres-
sion of faith. Other actions, such as the wearing of
certain jewelry or specific modes of dress, prosely-
tizing to coworkers, or requests for group meetings
at the work site, may be additional individual ex-
pressions of faith or required tenets of a faith or
group affiliation. In accommodating such manifes-
tations of religious or spiritual expression, a man-
ager must assess both the direct impact on other
employees, on employee safety, and on customers,
and consider the effect on productivity.
As accommodation issues arise, organizational
representatives must evaluate scheduling and pro-
duction needs, as well as what is expected of em-
ployees entering the organization. It is perfectly
permissible to ask candidates whether they can
meet the job requirements, including scheduled
work hours, and to make hiring decisions based on
their ability to meet them. If a qualified prospect
requests a minor schedule accommodation or the
right to wear jewelry or dress that does not inter-
fere with effective employee relations, the organi-
zation should seriously consider avenues of ac-
commodation. Such an approach meets the spirit
of EEO law.
Accommodation issues often do not surface until
Cash and Gray
employees begin working. Employees may then
divulge religious or spiritual needs that they were
reluctant to mention during the hiring process. Em-
ployees may also convert to a new faith or become
involved in a spiritual group after they are hired,
and seek a change in employment conditions in
hopes of achieving accommodation. Regardless of
how these requests arise, a good-faith attempt to
accommodate them should be made by the em-
Accommodafion effects on business operations
We suggest a framework that is legally neutral in
dealing with religious accommodation. The man-
ager's focus should not be on the legitimacy of the
religious or spiritual request, but rather on the
production process, and operational efficiency and
The manager's focus should not be on the
legitimacy of the religious or spiritual
request, but rather on the production
process, and operational efficiency and
In establishing an operational framework, it is
helpful to use both legal precedent and practical
application as part of the analysis. A review of
recent religious accommodation cases indicates
that the federal courts have not completely clari-
fied for employers how to establish a consistent
policy toward observance and manifestation ac-
commodations. For example, in Redmond v GAF
Corp.,^^ a circuit court found that the employer had
not reasonably accommodated an employee who
requested time off on Saturday mornings to teach a
Bible study class. The court found that granting the
accommodation request would not have resulted
in an undermanned work site or undue cost to the
company, that no union contract was violated, and
that a replacement worker would have been easy
to find. Four years later, a district court in Wessling
V Kroger'*^ upheld the company's refusal to accom-
modate an employee who wished to leave work
several hours early to help children in her church
with a Christmas Eve play. The court viewed the
activity as a voluntary exercise that did not consti-
tute a faith obligation.^'^
The courts have complicated the accommodation
issue further by ruling that laws prohibiting reli-
gious discrimination also protect the rights of non-
religious employees from discrimination. In TWA v
Hardison.^^ the Supreme Court made clear that it
did not intend that religious accommodation result
in an employer's denying the shift and job prefer-
ences of some employees or depriving them of
contractual rights in order to accommodate or pre-
fer the religious needs of others. The court further
found that a bona fide seniority system negotiated
as part of a union contract could override a pro-
posed accommodation solution, and that safety or
productivity problems or added company expense
could also legitimately prevent the accommoda-
If managers were to rely solely on legal rulings,
they would need to evaluate each fact-based case
and court opinion in terms of the employee's per-
ceived religious needs and obligations. We sug-
gest a more practical approach that requires lim-
ited analysis or value judgment. Rather than
focusing on the legitimacy of the employee's faith
obligation, we focus on business-driven issues
such as production schedules, employee leave
time availability, overtime schedules and bona
fide seniority systems, replacement costs, and
other relevant objective data. We contend that re-
ligious observance requests should be treated no
differently than other valid requests for time off,
such as to attend parent-teacher conferences.
Accommodation effects on employees, safety, and
Where observance issues deal directly with pro-
ductivity and process within the company, reli-
gious manifestations generally affect other em-
ployees, employee safety, and customer relations,
which, in turn, influence productivity and process.
Therefore, any organizational infringement on
those rights of expression must be based on their
purported impact on employees, safety, and cus-
tomers, and the corresponding effect on the com-
pany's productivity and process. For example, if an
employee's manifestation of religious freedom
causes such a disturbance among other workers
that the department cannot function and the com-
pany's work cannot be done, that represents undue
hardship on the productivity of the company. Ac-
ceptable policies must be established that delin-
eate the parameters oi an individual employee's
religious or spiritual rights in the workplace.
The executive branch of the federal government
supports the idea of expanded rights of employees
to practice religious or spiritual beliefs in the
workplace. President Clinton ordered all federal
agencies to adopt new guidelines that guarantee
employees the right to express religious views at
work, including the right to discuss their faith with
130 Academy of Management Executive
coworkers.^^ However, this freedom extends only to
situations where coworkers do not object to this
discussion. The issue oi religious expression has
become so complicated that the EEOC put on hold
its attempts to provide guidelines after its 1993
proposed guidelines were strongly criticized by
parties from all points of view.^''
The First Amendment theoretically prevents Con-
gress from making any law that prohibits the free
exercise of religion. As with First Amendment rights
in general, it is difficult to determine the point at
which the exercise of one person's freedom infringes
on another's rights. Determining physical infringe-
ment is often fairly simple: no Individual has the
right to inflict physical abuse on another. Determin-
ing emotional infringement—such as unwanted
proselytizing by coworkers—is a matter of interpre-
tation, and managers are left to their own devices.
Wiison V U.S. West Communications goes to the
heart of the issue of where one employee's religious
freedom ends and a coworker's freedom from visual,
written, or oral harassment begins.^^ In this case, an
employee had taken a vow to wear a color photo-
graph of a 20-week old fetus on a anti-abortion but-
ton at all times except when bathing or sleeping. The
photograph created tension among coworkers. The
employee felt the other employees could avoid look-
ing at the button if it offended them. The employer
offered the employee the alternatives of covering the
button while at work or wearing a button with the
same message but without the photograph. The em-
ployee refused both accommodations. The Supreme
Court found that covering the button was reason-
able, while continuing to wear the button with the
photograph placed an undue hardship on the em-
ployer. An appellate court concluded that allowing
the employee to wear the button would have allowed
the employee to assert greater rights than those af-
forded the coworkers.^
Organizations must also be aware that manifes-
tation issues may affect customer relations. In
Organizations must aiso be aware that
manifestation issues may affect customer
Banks v Service America Coip..^'' the company at-
tempted to set guidelines for customer greetings
by employees after customer complaints that food
service employees greeted them with such phrases
as "God bless you," and "Praise the Lord." The
district court found that the food service encounter
was a "fleeting and spontaneous one," that there
was no evidence that the employees were trying to
proselytize or impose their beliefs on customers,
and that there was no evidence of business lost as
a result of employees' practices.^^ Consequently,
there was no proof of undue hardship and the
employees' religious freedom prevailed.
Safety is also a major concern for employers
when dealing with manifestation issues. In this
area, the court has been rather clear in its pro-
nouncements. In Bhatia v Chevron USA, Inc., the
circuit court denied the requested manifestation
accommodation of a member of the Sikh religion,
which does not generally permit shaving, and did
not override the company's clean-shaven policy.^^
The employee's job required the use of a respirator
that formed a good seal with the face to prevent
exposure to chemical fumes. The need for safety
precautions in line with federal regulations and
the fact that the company had attempted to find the
employee a comparable job constituted an accept-
able accommodation to the court.^*^
However, in a situation where such safety require-
ments are not an issue, the company should seek to
accommodate such a request.^' This opinion was
reinforced in Carter v Bruce Oakley, Inc., where the
employer claimed that an employee with a beard
worn for religious reasons had to shave it off because
of safety concerns, but offered no supporting evi-
dence.^^ The employee demonstrated that his mask
actually fit better against the beard than against a
cleanly shaven face. Since there were no other legit-
imate reasons for a policy against beards, the district
court found that the company's allegation of safety
reasons was not justified and that the company had
not attempted a reasonable religious accommoda-
tion.^^ The court made it clear that a company's
safety policies would be upheld only if they were
documented and justifiable. Mere reliance on past
practice or habit would not suffice.
Applying the Accommodation Framework
Having looked at the process of establishing a
neutral framework, we make the following recom-
mendations, based on what we consider reason-
able policies toward religious and spiritual accom-
modation in the workplace. (See Table 1.)
In accommodating employees' observance re-
quests, employers need to promote a positive and
equitable approach to religious and spiritual free-
doms. We advocate use of personal leave days
specifically designated for observing religious
commemorations or general mental or spiritual
health, with no questions asked, as long as pro-
ductivity standards and process schedules are
met. These personal leave days would be included
in the employees' overall leave time allocated in a
Cash and Gray
Table 1
A Framework for Accommodating Religion and Spirituality at Work
Categories oi requests Examples of requests Factors to consider in accommodating requests
Observance requests
(Outside the workplace)
Manifestation requests
(At work)
Holidays, ritual or event,
sabbath days, leave of
Dress, symbols,
proselytizing, iniormal
Does the employee have available leave time?
Will workflow be substantially affected?
Will employee productivity significantly decline?
Will the company be unable to meet production or
service needs?
Will overall employee relations suffer?
Will employee productivity substantially decrease?
Will employee or customer safety be jeopardized?
Will customer relations suffer significantly?
specific year. If work flow and production needs
are met and the employee has available leave
time, there should be no reason to deny an obser-
vance request. However, if there are issues regard-
ing leave time or organizational production issues,
managers should still consider avenues of accom-
modation that do not involve undue hardship to the
company (e.g., excessive temporary employee
costs). Any reasonable request for time off should
be considered to include requests for specific
hours or days off to celebrate sabbaths or partici-
pate in periodically occurring events without re-
questing obtrusive employee information.
// work flow and production needs are
met and the employee has available
leave time, there should be no reason to
deny an observance request.
Such an approach would effectively remove
managers from the process of obtaining religious
information and attempting to justify what is a
valid religious request for time off. Instead, em-
ployees would take charge of their own religious
and spiritual observance schedules and any rea-
sonable request for accommodation would be con-
sidered based on its effect on productivity, not on a
manager' s interpretation of its value. Managers
cease their roles as monitors and value referees,
and allow employees to create their own individ-
ual hierarchies of work and family needs. Employ-
ees schedule time off according to the importance
they place on specific individual work and family
religious and spiritual issues.
While an additional personal leave day would
cost a firm more money, the value to employee mo-
rale and company goodwill, not to mention the de-
creased claims of religious discrimination and fail-
ure to accommodate, could well offset the cost.
Companies would, in fact, demonstrate a proactive.
nonintnisive, employee-friendly approach to reli-
gious and spiritual individuality. Unique observa-
tion problems such as extended leaves of absence or
various manifestation issues such as dress codes
require a central review process to assure consistent
application across the organization.
In addressing observation or manifestation re-
quests, employers generally rely on their concept
of reasonableness in determining company policy.
However, policies may often be inflexible, out-
dated, or simply too broad to deal with the complex
situations of today's diverse workforce. Reason-
ableness criteria should be established and main-
tained by employers with an employee under-
standing that such criteria will undergo constant
review and reevaluation by both management and
employees for consistency and fairness. Reason-
ableness criteria may vary across organizations,
but they generally involve flexibility, a willing-
ness to accommodate, and an ongoing analysis of
consistency and fairness balanced against organi-
zational needs.
Employee relations committees comprising man-
agers, employees, and, where applicable, union
officials, have been established in many major
corporations to resolve problems with all types
of EEO-related issues. Spiritual and religious ac-
commodation could be added to the committee's
agenda. Such committees could also be avenues
for resolving accommodation issues where em-
ployees question whether their request has been
fairly considered by management. These commit-
tees tend to create a greater sense of trust and
consistency in applying accommodation policies
because all parties in the workplace are involved
in the decision process.
A committee may do preliminary work in review-
ing EEO policy and its application. It also may act as
a second-level problem resolution group within the
context of a formal or informal grievance procedure.
The formal grievance procedure, in most instances,
132 Academy of Management Executive August*
is a review with employee and supervisor, progress-
ing to a second-level committee, then to a neutral
arbitrator, executive committee, or court.
Criteria established by the committee should bal-
ance the worker's rights to religious and spiritual
freedom against other employees' rights to work
without obvious harassment and aggressive intru-
sion into their workspace and general environment.
The employee relations committee could give due
consideration to whether the requested accommoda-
tion places an undue hardship on company schedul-
ing, the work environment, or productivity. It is cer-
tainly in the best interest of all parties to resolve the
conflict within the organization. When companies
and employees are unable to resolve the conflict
between the company's perception of reasonable-
ness and the individual's perceived need for reli-
gious accommodation, the courts become the avenue
of last resort and will apply their own definition of
reasonable accommodation, which may not be sat-
isfactory to either party.
When companies and employees are
unable to resolve the conflict between
the company's perception of
reasonableness and the individual's
perceived need for religious
accommodation, the courts become the
avenue of last resort and will apply their
own definition of reasonable
accommodation, which may not be
satisfactory to either party.
Creating a Value-Expressive Work Environment
There is little doubt that American society and its
political and legal institutions are moving toward
a more open, value-expressive environment that
will put even greater pressure on companies to
honor employees' requests for religious and spiri-
tual accommodation. To prevent unnecessary in-
vasion of employee privacy, which could set the
stage for real or imagined religious discrimina-
tion, we have advocated a broad definition of be-
lief and a subsequent framework that is legally
neutral for providing religious, spiritual, or value-
driven accommodation. We base our framework on
the theory that any reasonable accommodation re-
quest should be entertained, subject to productiv-
ity and process considerations, in an attempt to
create a more equitable, open, and desensitized
environment. Over the last 35 years, society has
come full circle from advocating a workplace free
of religion to encouraging a spiritually and reli-
giously expressive one. There is little debate that
many people desire this more individually rele-
vant workplace. The challenge for managers is to
make this environment work—legally, socially,
and productively.
' Bailey, R. L. 1998. Religion coloring business decisions in
more work places. Knight-Hidder/Tiihune Business News. Octo-
ber 1.
^Ferguson, T. W. 8E Lee, J. 1997. Spiritual reality. Foihes.
January 27; 70-76.
^ Ibid.
^ Robertson, G. 1997. Looking ahead. Richmond Times-
Dispatch. March 3: D6.
^ Digh, P. 1998. Religion in the workplace: Make a good-faith
effort to accommodate. HB Magazine, 43(13), 84-91.
^Overman, S. 1994. Good faith is the answer. HR Magazine.
January: 74-76.
' Becker, G. S. 1996. Religions thrive in a free market, too.
Business Week—Economic Viewpoint, January 15: 20.
^Ferguson, T. W. & Lee, J. 1997. Spiritual reality. Forbes,
January 27: 72.
^ Breuer, N. L. 1997. When workers seek pastoral advice—How
will you answer them? Worklorce. 76, 4, April: 45-51.
'° Cavanagh, G. F. 1999. Spirituality for managers: Context
and critique, journal of Change Management, 12(3), 186-199.
" Lee, C. 8f Zemke, R. 1993. The search for spirit in the work-
place. Training, June: 21-26.
'^ Brandt, E. 1996. Corporate pioneers explore spirituality. HR
Magazine. April: 83.
'^ Carcasole, L. 1995. Sshhhh!. . . This is about spirituality in
the workplace. CMA Magazine, November: 7.
'^ Murray, M. 1995. Tackling workplace problems with prayer.
Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), October 19: Bl. B12.
'^ Cohen, G. 1996. Toward a spirituality based on justice and
ecology. SociaJ Policy. Spring: 6-18.
'^ Ali. A. J. & Falcone, T. 1995. Work ethic in the USA and
Canada. Jouinal of Management Development, 14, 6: 26-33.
' ' Cohen, op.cit.; Thompson, C. M. 2000. The congruent life:
Following the inward path to fulfilling work and inspired lead-
ership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; Moxley, R. 1999. Leadership
& spirit. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
'^ Society for Human Resource Management. 1997. State of
religion in the workplace. Washing(on Update—HR Focus. De-
cember: 8. Requests for religious observances numbered almost
three times those of the next most requested religious accom-
^° While the response rate was disappointing, a number of
respondents wrote to let us know that they no longer respond to
surveys because of the sheer magnitude of survey requests they
receive. We also realize that diversity can be a legally sensitive
issue that may have a dampening effect on survey response.
^' Bushnell, D. 1998. Area firms find religion helpful for good
work. Boston Globe, November 8: I & 11.
^^ Murray, op.cit.
• Lee, S. 1997. Bringing religion to the boardroom. Forbes—
rai t i ng Head. April 7: 138-139.
^* Anonymous. 1996. Offices need good-faith agreements.
Performance Strategies—Talking Business. June: 3.
" Overman, op.cit.
'•^ Cavanagh, op.cit.
Cash and Gray 133
" Brandt, op.cit.
^Carcasole, op.cit.
^^ Cohen, op.cit.
^"Brandt, op.cit.
^' Burack, E. H. 1999. Spirituality in the workplace. Journal of
Change Management. 12(4), 280-291.
^^ Carcasoie, op.cit.
^^ United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, First Amendment.
3^322 U.S. 78, 86(1944).
3^380U.S- 163. 184-185(1965).
^^398U.S. 333, 339(1970).
" 432 U.S. 63, 1977.
^^ Webster's Coliege Thesaurus. 1997. New York: Random
^^ Laabs, J. J. 1995. Balancing spirituality and work. Personnel
7ournai, September: 68.
•"' Brandt, op.cit.
•" Butts, D. 1999. Spirituality at work: An overview. Journal of
Change Management. 12(4). 328-331. ''^ Ribadeneira, op.cit.
" Brandt, op.cit.
^* Frierson, J. G. 1988. Religion in the workplace—Dealing in
good faith? Persoiinei Journal, July: 62.
"^ SHRM, op.cit.
"^ 42 u s e 2000e, Section 701J.
•"'29 CF. R. Section 1605.2 (c)(l)(1980).
"^ 574 F2d 897, 1978.
•"^ 554 F. Supp. 548, 1982.
^° Frierson, op.cit.
^' 432 U.S. 63. 1977.
" Frierson, op.cit.
^^ Associated Press. 1997. Religious freedom guidelines is-
sued. Richmond Times—Dispatch. August 14: A13.
^^ Anonymous. 1995. Training today—Wal-Mart to provide
religious-accommodation training, rraining, November:
^^ 58 F. 3d 1337, 88 FEP Cases (BNA) 341 (10th Cir. 1995).
^^ Malone, M. D., Hartman, S. J., 8E Payne, D. 1998. Religion in
the workplace: Religious activities on the job. Labor Law Jour-
nal: 1090-1098.
^'' 952 F. Sup. 703, 73 FEP Cases (BNA) 173 (D. Kan 1996).
^^ Malone, Hartman, 8E Payne, op.cit.
^^ 734 F2d 1382, 9th Cir. 1984.
^° Frierson, op.cit.
^' Ibid.
^^ 849 F. Supp. 677, 64 FEP Cases (BNA) 967 (E.D. Ark. 1994).
^^ Malone, M. D., Hartman, S. J., & Payne, D. 1998. Religion in
the workplace: Specific accommodations for scheduling and
personal appearance. Labor Law Journal: 1082-1089.
Karen C. Cash is a doctoral stu-
dent in the iield of management
at Virginia Commonwealth
University. Her focus of disser-
tation research is leadership in
self-managed teams. In associ-
ation with the Virginia Labor
Studies Center at VCU, she is
currently involved in research
involving cultural training for
expatriates and other business
and labor related topics. Con-
tact: sOkcas?]@a(Jas.
George R. Gray is an associate
professor of human resource
management and industrial re-
lations at Virginia Common-
wealth University. He has Ph.D.
and J.D. degrees and is a labor
arbitrator. He has published in
the Monthly Labor Beview, Hu-
man Resource Management
Journal and Pubiic Personnei
Administration, among others.
Executive Commentary
Sally A. Bood
Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer
Is the subject of Cash and Gray' s article too
taboo to talk about today? Maybe in the past it
was, but at the beginning of the millennium, the
presence of spirituality is growing, becoming
more obvious—almost ubiquitous. As individu-
als have begun to question the meaning of life
and embrace the development of their inner
selves, corporations and organizations are be-
ginning to see the light as well. Why not? Espe-
cially il their employees are collectively enjoy-
ing improved general morale on the job, and
individually seem happier, find greater motiva-
tion and personal rewards for their work, and
work more effectively and productively.
Just as the corporate environment is likely to con-
tinue with its downsizing, global competition, and
dehumanizing technology, the needs and desires of
corporate employees to find more meaning in their
lives will not suddenly disappear. Cash and Gray
see that it's if-you-can't-beat-them, join-them time in
corporate life. Companies might as well accommo-
date employee requests, accept without judgment