Navigating faith in the workplace

How can HR handle situations where someone’s religious beliefs challenge another person’s belief or identity?

Navigating faith in the workplace

It’s important to help workplaces move away from simply accommodating the needs of their multi-faith employees and towards making workplaces inclusive for everyone in Australia’s increasingly religiously diverse workplaces.

That’s according to the Diversity Council Australia (DCA) who have just developed a new resource to provide guidance to Australian workplaces about how to deal with a range of common faith-related queries.

Moreover, its purpose is to provide workplaces with principles to help balance issues where conflicting rights might intersect.

DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese, said that the organisation originally developed this guide over ten years ago, but a lot has changed in that time.

“Australia is more religiously diverse than ever, while at the same time we have more people of no-faith than ever before,” said Annese.

“Workplaces are developing increasingly sophisticated diversity and inclusion policies, but when we consulted with our members about this issue, we heard that there was a lack of clarity about the legal landscape, and this was adversely impacting on their capacity to know how to best legally accommodate employee faith-related needs and requests.”

Annese said that was one of the reasons we developed this approach, which is about moving away from just doing just what the law says, to the altogether higher aspiration of inclusion.

“We know how powerful a tool inclusion is for workplaces. Our research shows it has benefits for businesses and individuals,” she said.

“Inclusion is a higher aspiration than simply meeting the legal requirements to accommodate people of faith (or no faith) at work.”

The goal was to elevate the conversations that we have each day so they respect and include all, according to Annese.

The resource also sets out a framework for situations where staff may have particular religious needs which might conflict with work requirements.

“A common question we receive at DCA is how to handle situations where someone’s religious beliefs challenge another person’s belief or identity, especially if this has an impact on the needs of the business.

“There are no simple answers, but DCA has developed a framework to help navigate some of these situations, based on the principle of inclusion – ensuring that all employees are respected, connected, and able to contribute and progress.”

READ MORE: The danger of unconscious bias in HR decisions

Annese acknowledged that at the moment, there is a big public debate about religion at work.

“What we are saying is, that rather than arguing about whether or not something is legal, let’s think about whether it’s respectful and inclusive,” she said.

“And if it’s not, then it’s probably not appropriate in a workplace, even if you think it comes from a place of love.”

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