Back in 2005, a Home Depot in Canada required all employees to wear hard hats while the store was undergoing construction. When Deepinder Loomba, a Sikh security guard, refused to replace his turban with the hard hat, he was reportedly mocked and picked on by his manager, Brian Busch, and several other employees.
After a 5 year battle in court, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found Brian Busch guilty of religious discrimination. Loomba was happy with the outcome of the hearing, and called for more religious diversity training so that managers and employees could avoid such problems in the future.
Accommodating our increasingly diverse workforce can be tricky, but getting into the accommodation mindset can help employers avoid conflict and save them the time and money that would otherwise be wasted on courtroom disputes and protest demonstrations. Asking questions to get the facts about individuals’ beliefs can be the first helpful step, but it’s equally important to meet needs of both the company and the employee by getting creative with company policies and practices. Brian Busch may have found a solution to future conflicts at Home Depot; however, some recent discrimination cases have left employees asking for more.
Two Jewish teachers from California filed a federal lawsuit against the Edison Elementary School district this past spring claiming that they have been subjected to religious discrimination and harassment for nearly 30 years. Jean Bornstein and Rabbi Bruce Neal were reportedly criticized for their kosher diet, religious clothing, and observance of Jewish holidays. Rabbi Bruce Neal was even forced by coworkers to remove his yarmulke, and believes that both he and Bornstein were denied promotions because of their faith.
In addition, this past May, dozens of foreign workers led by the Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA) protested their lack of religious freedom in a demonstration in Taipei. The demonstration was a direct response to the recent indictment of Chang Wen-ling, a Taiwanese employer who forced three Indonesian Muslim workers to eat pork, disrespecting their religious practices. The protesters shared similar experiences of religious disrespect in the workplace.
For example, Tiwi, an Indonesian Muslim caregiver who has been in Taiwan for more than seven years, reported that all of her employers have tried to convince her to eat pork. In Tiwi’s case, the employers were reportedly aware that eating pork was strictly forbidden for a majority of Muslims, but continued to pressure their employees anyway. In response to the seemingly widespread problem, the TIWA is calling for the Taiwanese government to include migrant caregivers under the Labor Standards Act, an act protecting their basic working rights. Creating, enforcing, and communicating a written policy on religion in the workplace can often be enough motivation for most co-workers to start respecting and understanding each other’s beliefs and practices.
From Canada to Taiwan, religious discrimination is causing some serious damage to employee morale and ultimately business productivity. Perhaps Rabbi Bruce Neal and Deepinder Loomba’s coworkers believed they were innocently teasing them about their religious garb. However, these jokes have caused employee tensions to escalate time and time again. Learning how to accommodate religious diversity can both prevent and tackle discrimination cases like these from all angles – visit our Six Steps to the Accommodation Mindset to learn more.