Working with Faith: Making Place for Religion in the Workplace

Special thanks for contributions from Coalition for Faith & Media members*:
Sumreen Ahmad | Ben Christensen | Stephen Courtright | Megan Johnson | Naomi Kraus | Millicent Rone | Sarah Smith | Marsie Sweetland


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in workplace settings can create empowering environments where employees can thrive and fully contribute to business outcomes. In recent years, businesses across industries have realized that faith and belief are core components of DEI.

At the same time, because faith and belief are personal and often strongly held, companies often don’t know where or how to start the process of incorporating faith and belief into DEI.

Recognizing this need, the Coalition for Faith & Media has gathered experts and thought leaders from media, business, religion, and academia to prepare this Playbook, with the goal of helping businesses effectively initiate efforts to address faith and belief in the workplace.

Every organization is different, with different people, organizational structures, and business objectives. So there is no “golden equation” or “off-the-shelf” solution to effective faith and belief DEI initiatives. This Playbook focuses on best practices, effective application principles, and resources that companies can use to further their efforts.

Why Businesses Need Faith and Belief in Workplace DEI Efforts

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are a top priority in many businesses today, and not simply because employees see them as a sign that the company values them beyond their ability to simply generate profit. DEI initiatives are critical for attracting and retaining talent, as well as for appealing to diverse consumer populations, and they strengthen a business’s marketplace position.

Hundreds of research studies have shown that employees at diversity-supportive businesses are more engaged and perform better at work.1 One study from Deloitte indicated that diversity-supportive organizations are more able to innovate products and stay responsive to changing customer needs.2 Businesses that want to remain competitive, especially in today’s global marketplace, must understand the diverse cultural and personal identities of their employees. Those employees can then connect with and better serve a diverse customer base.

Organizations have traditionally tailored DEI initiatives around gender, race, and sexual orientation. But gradually, faith and religious beliefs are also being recognized as fundamental elements of diversity in business. As recently noted in the Harvard Business Review, “accommodating a religiously diverse workplace is not just a nice to have practice; it’s increasingly becoming a must have for business and company leaders.”3


of the global population identifies as highly religious

One reason for this is simple: over 80 percent of the global population identifies as highly religious, with this number projected to increase to over 85 percent by 2050.4 Even in areas of the world where religious affiliation is declining (such as North America, Europe, and Latin America), religious diversity is increasing. Modern organizations operate in a global, pluralistic landscape in which religious affiliation and religiosity is important to the masses and religious diversity is growing. This fact alone calls for an acceptance of faith and belief as features of organizational DEI efforts.

But some businesses have been slower to adopt faith and belief as categories in their broader DEI efforts. Understandably, business leaders wonder whether affirming faith and belief in the workplace is truly beneficial for their company’s performance, or is simply an expense to be tolerated.

Yet a large body of academic research, coupled with successful stories from some of the world’s most profitable companies, demonstrates that faith-friendly environments do create a competitive advantage for businesses. Dozens of studies show that, among other outcomes, employees in faith-friendly organizations report higher job satisfaction, better productivity, lower turnover, and fewer uncivil behaviors.5

Corroborating these findings, companies like Google, Dell Technologies, Intel, Accenture, and American Airlines recognize the role that faith and belief play in the everyday lives of their employees, and have developed initiatives meant to accommodate and appreciate religious identities among employees. This includes employee resource groups (ERGs), more flexible holiday scheduling, and spaces within the workplace for prayer and rituals. Initiatives such as these attract a more diverse workforce, which in turn helps these companies maintain an edge in their respective markets.

These are positive trends, but unfortunately, religious employees often feel unsafe when it comes to expressing their religious identities at work. A recent Deseret News/HarrisX poll found that nearly 40 percent of employees report keeping their religion secret from peers and supervisors for fear of repercussions. This may partly stem from businesses taking only a compliance-driven approach to faith and belief in the workplace. Employees are trained primarily to avoid actions toward employees and customers that could be considered discriminatory and illegal.

While such efforts are laudable, they fail to proactively address the diverse perspectives of religious employees and customers that, if understood, could generate value for the organization. Compliance-driven efforts alone can inadvertently signal to employees that conversations about and expressions of religion should be avoided.6 This then contributes to employees concealing their religious identities and contributes to a host of negative business outcomes.


expressed the opinion that “it’s good for company culture” for employees to be open about their faith

Deseret News/Harris X

Over 75 percent of business leaders in the Deseret News/Harris X poll expressed the opinion that “it’s good for company culture” for employees to be open about their faith, and that “discussions about religious beliefs make workers happier.”7

So a quandary exists. On one hand, the majority of business leaders express openness to incorporating religion as an element of DEI in order to improve company culture and foster inclusion. On the other hand, efforts to accommodate faith and belief have not always translated to individuals feeling safe expressing religious identities at work. Business leaders are often unaware of best practices for recognizing religious diversity in the workplace and affirming faith and belief as part of their DEI strategy. 

This is a problem with a solution.

Launching Faith in DEI Initiatives: Where to Begin

Remember: there are no plug and play solutions to effectively addressing faith and belief in any business or industry. Each industry and company are unique in their mission, demographics, and culture. Those unique characteristics must be part of any strategy to address faith and belief effectively. Yet there are many ways to address faith and belief in a workplace environment, from basic accommodations in dress, grooming, and dietary options, to training on religious literacy, to establishing faith and belief-oriented ERGs.

First, a sustainable, successful DEI initiative depends on its alignment with business objectives. Faith and belief DEI initiatives may fit with a company’s commitment to serving its community, or to promote a social good or movement. For example, under the banner of interfaith within their DEI infrastructure, Dell Technologies has created an anti-human trafficking campaign. This aligns with Dell’s business objective to serve the global communities in which it operates. 

In other cases, DEI initiatives may be directly connected to bottom-line indicators, like recruitment and retention. American Express has created various faith and belief-oriented ERGs with the intent of creating an accommodating workplace for people of various faiths and beliefs. This is part of an effort to attract recruits and serve as a benefit for existing employees.

Companies operating in a global context also recognize that addressing faith and belief connects them to their customers. In trying to target billions of diverse, global customers, Google views religious diversity among its employees as a reflection of the broader religious diversity throughout the world, and a way to help create products that better reflect their customers.

Furthermore, when possible, it’s important to integrate faith and belief initiatives into existing programs at the company. DEI initiatives are meant to empower employees to bring their whole selves into the workplace, which better prepares them to contribute fully.

Successful incorporation of faith and belief initiatives into broader DEI efforts can come through ERGs, such as Walmart’s Faith and Vocation ERG, which has a mission to “connect, collaborate and celebrate associates of all faiths to make a difference for our company, our customers, and our communities.” Google’s Inter Belief Network aims to “create a culture of inclusion, tolerance, and mutual understanding at Google for a diversity of beliefs.” Such efforts have been very successful for companies that have implemented them. At Salesforce, the Faithforce ERG quickly became one of the fastest growing DEI ERGs in the company's history after its launch in 2017.

Six Principles for Effective Faith in DEI Initiatives

The following principles draw from the experience and expertise of businesses that have been successful in faith and belief-oriented initiatives, as well as research and experience from consultants and academics that study corporate faith and belief initiatives.

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Finding Your Why: Determining What Success Looks Like

An essential first step for any faith or belief-based initiative, like an ERG, is to define a purpose or charter to which all parties involved are aligned. Ensure that the initiative’s purpose is aligned with the greater company’s mission and the DEI plan. Writing a mission statement is usually a key part of this step, and serves as the yardstick against which all that follows is measured and evaluated. It should be concise and clearly communicate the initiative’s purpose to stakeholders and the company as a whole.

Some faith or belief-based initiatives may also choose to write a vision statement. This is more of a long term aspirational goal than a strategic one, but can be instructive in setting the mission. Some groups also write guiding or operating principles as part of their charter, others are more broadly structured. It often depends on the nature of the company in which the initiative is forming. Alignment among all parties is crucial to successfully mapping out a plan.

Some sample questions to consider:

  • What does your initiative seek to achieve?
  • Who is your target demographic? Will it be interfaith or single faith? Will it be an umbrella-style group or a more singular one?
  • Will it be limited to internal engagement with employees or allow for external interaction with members of the greater faith community?
  • What core values will it espouse? Different faiths may put different emphasis on certain things. Make sure all groups are aligned.
  • Note that initiatives like ERGs are open to all employees of a company – how will this mission affect those who may not belong to a belief group?
  • What structure will best suit the aims and goals of your initiatives and its members? Does that structure align with other initiatives within the company?


Examples of corporate mission statements:

We believe all employees have the right to bring their whole self to work. Faith and worldviews are core to who we are – our values and beliefs – and to how we conduct business. The mission of Believe is to foster an inclusive work culture and to promote holistic wellbeing by providing a forum to openly exercise and celebrate all faiths and worldviews while working. Believe exists to create awareness and understanding of faith, hope, love, empathy, respect for one another and service toward our customers, communities and co-workers.

We welcome employees from all faiths and spiritual groups to practice and celebrate their beliefs. We believe that enabling an open dialog to foster understanding of different belief systems creates an environment that is truly open and inclusive.

The Interfaith ERG’s mission is to provide a community of support, promotion, inclusion, and validation for spiritual culture and religious expression to improve mutual respect, communication, and understanding within Uber and across the tech community.

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Finding Space: Implementation Within Your Current DEI Strategy

Companies that have an existing commitment to DEI are much better positioned to recognize the importance of embracing additional aspects of diversity, including faith and belief. When faith and belief are part of the larger DEI structure, then they become  another aspect of the company's existing diversity efforts, rather than a stand-alone initiative, which can cause some employees to see it as an initiative meant to favor those of faith over others. 

Building faith and belief-oriented initiatives into existing DEI commitments and networks also allows a new faith and belief-oriented initiative to partner with other DEI groups, creating greater commitment across the DEI network and bringing the company’s diversity together. Companies like Dell Technologies, Google, Salesforce, and Texas Instruments have regular events and collaborations among groups, such as Texas Instruments faith and LGBTQ groups coming together on projects and in discussion groups.

A question that will likely arise at this step is whether the new initiative should be interfaith or faith-specific. In general, research and practice suggest that starting with an interfaith approach is advantageous. Saramount, a DEI research and consulting firm, has noted:

Religion and spirituality are increasingly being recognized as significant dimensions of diversity in the workplace. There are two models for religious Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): religion-specific ERGs and interfaith ERGs where all religions are celebrated in one group. The Interfaith ERG is emerging as the preferred model for large companies. [...] Furthermore, given the diversity of religious beliefs and practices across the globe, companies could be challenged by the number of employees wishing to form separately operating religion-specific ERGs. Interfaith ERGs are an inclusive way for all employees to connect over their beliefs and learn about others, while reducing the possible tension that arises when religion enters the workplace.8

When companies do support faith-specific initiatives, it is helpful to house those initiatives under the larger umbrella of interfaith to ensure no one particular faith is overrepresented.

Of course, new initiatives, particularly those addressing topics that have historically been absent in workplace settings such as faith and belief, can be challenging to launch. Creating a defined process or following an existing process is critical. Having an established process removes personal judgment or bias from the decision to have or not to have a faith or belief-oriented initiative and puts the effort on equal ground with other initiatives.

When employees at Texas Instruments proposed a faith-oriented ERG, there was no defined process for starting an ERG in the company. While there were some existing ERGs, each one had developed in a different way. Because there was some pushback and worry from employees about having a faith-based ERG, not having a defined process for starting an ERG became an additional obstacle. 

To address this, those leading the effort to launch the ERG met with leaders of the LGBTQ ERG to define a process and criteria for ERG development that would be equitable and reflective of company priorities. With a defined, vetted process in place, the faith-based ERG had a much clearer path to a successful launch and buy-in.

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Creating the Right Environment for Success

The success of any new initiative will depend, in part, on growing the religious literacy of the organization, as well as engaging stakeholders skillfully.

Data shows us that when people know one or two accurate facts about a particular religious tradition, their “appreciative attitudes” toward that tradition increase. Building religious literacy therefore improves collegial respect and leads to more positive interactions across diverse traditions. A lack of religious literacy by team leaders can spark avoidable conflicts, such as major work events being scheduled on significant religious holidays or failure to be inclusive of religious dietary restrictions at work events that involve food. Yes, accommodations for religious expression in the workplace are mandated by law – but more importantly, companies create stronger team culture when people from diverse religious backgrounds feel that their practices and observances are respected and celebrated.

In a workplace environment, this type of religious literacy can be enhanced in simple ways: adding religious holidays from many faiths to the calendar, taking a few minutes of a staff meeting to learn about different religious traditions from a willing employee, or hosting a “lunch and learn” event about different religious traditions.

However, knowing facts about religious traditions doesn’t equate to full religious literacy. It is easy for us to impose all we know about something, like a religious tradition, on someone that carries a particular label, like Catholic or Hindu. But this approach misses the unique, lived, and personal experience of the individual. Upon learning of the particular faith tradition of a colleague, someone who is seeking to be religiously literate might respond with, “Thank you for sharing that you are Catholic. I’d love to better understand what being Catholic means to you. Can you share your personal experience to help me understand?”

Both types of religious literacy can greatly improve a work environment and allow people to feel comfortable and confident in their workspace.

Stakeholder engagement and internal champions

Effectively engaging stakeholders means both reaching the right people and reaching them in the right way. Here are some ways to accomplish that.

Engage employees

Successful faith and belief-oriented initiatives tend to start with buy-in from employees across the company and from various departments. Ideally, employees from various faith and belief backgrounds come together to advocate for the creation of faith and belief-oriented initiatives, demonstrating that the initiative is inclusive and not driven by one particular person or faith tradition.

Engage local management, HR or DEI leadership

Before faith and belief-oriented initiatives are proposed, it can be helpful to explore viability and fit through smaller pilots. For example, local HR or management leadership may authorize a group of employees to meet on the topic of faith and belief in the workplace and explore its relevance in a pilot “safe space” meeting of potentially interested employees. This type of pilot group can serve as a proof of concept and the initial foundation for larger company-wide efforts.

One key local sponsor should be the manager of the employee or employees who are leading or seeking to lead the initiative. From experience, a line manager can influence the time an employee may use to pursue this; this may be tolerated, supported, or even allocated as an employee’s choice of quarterly volunteer hours. An employee should seek to obtain the sponsorship of their line manager to see their efforts as a potential strategic value advancing business objectives.

Seek executive sponsorship

When a community of interest grows, more formal executive sponsorship will be needed and obtained by drafting standard communication. Standard messaging should be quickly validated and informed by meeting with or learning from peer companies’ practices.

Outside peer stakeholders

It’s always helpful to engage peers outside of the organization that are successfully leading faith and belief-oriented initiatives in their own organizations. This ensures learning from best practices, shows precedent for similar initiatives and serves as an example of how these efforts can positively impact the organization. Be prepared to share examples from published external research on the importance of a safe space for faith and belief identities to be de-stigmatized in the workplace.

Conduct research

Before proposing faith and belief-oriented initiatives, it is helpful to have industry, company-specific, and market-related research showing the need and benefits of such efforts. Within the company, consider asking local HR leaders: “Has anyone else asked about faith support groups in the company?” A local HR leader may be able to help connect and bring together interested employees. Start simple. Consider the reach that a one-page summary of a 45-minute pilot meeting of a few employees who are willing to create a safe space to talk about issues of faith in the business can have. HR staff focusing on diversity are likely to pay attention to issues that appear to be relevant to employees. This employee-driven documentation can communicate the business case to a Chief DE&I Officer, other members, and eventually, higher-level executives who can become allies.

Maintain a communications toolkit

When the topic of faith comes up in the workplace, people must be prepared to deal effectively with the sensitivities a growing faith and belief initiative raises. Empower your stakeholders by maintaining a standard communications toolkit. Standard messaging and conducting regular activities to which stakeholders can readily point and draw from can be incredibly valuable for ensuring consistency.

Appreciate your champions

When engaging key stakeholders – remember to appreciate your best internal champions. Celebrate and acknowledge the people who do the work weekly and regularly by contributing their resources as employee volunteers alongside their core work. Appreciation for them goes a long way.

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Building Effective Communication Channels

When starting a new faith and belief-oriented initiative, it is helpful to start with training for employees involved in the initiative as well as leadership that will oversee, approve, or manage initiatives, such as DEI or HR professionals. There are likely many differing ideas of what faith and belief at work means, so it’s important to use training to help all involved “get on the same page.” A common vocabulary and framework for engaging faith and belief initiatives at work is essential. (See the section “Building a Unique Approach: Tapping Into Available Resources” below for a list of organizations that offer such training.)

Employees will likely have questions about faith and belief inclusion initiatives: What is it? What is it not? What impact will it have? How can I be involved? Some employees may also have fears or concerns that need to be effectively addressed. Recognizing the needs of the employees at your company, finding effective channels, and building clear communications from the launch of an initiative will go a long way toward its success.

If an initiative is going to grow and last for a long time, however, it’s imperative to have clear, consistent channels of communication. Employees will want to advertise events, share necessary information, and provide an invitation to participate, and may want to extend that channel beyond the company’s internal systems. For many companies, DEI initiatives are shared on company pages, in investor reporting, and on social forums.

Producing professional communications about this initiative may require a budget, both for launch and long-term success.

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Funding Faith-Based Initiatives

Funding is a significant step in the foundation of an initiative, especially an ERG, and signifies a company’s commitment to investing in the group’s goals and purpose. How a company chooses to fund a faith-based initiative varies depending on the model and success metrics it uses to measure achievements. 

Securing a dedicated budget serves a number of purposes.

Program planning and execution

Funding should be tied to overall strategic goals, and can be used for any number of expenses that serve the needs of the group and overall DEI goals. For faith-based groups, this may include compensating speakers on topics of interest to members, renting spaces for faith events, or supporting educational and allyship efforts both internally and externally.

Membership attraction and retention

Like all initiatives, faith-based Initiatives with a budget are more likely to attract and retain members. Employees will feel confident that the group has the resourcing and backing of leadership, and can therefore actually work to achieve set goals and support desired outcomes while feeling included and respected.

Impact tracking

Generally, being held accountable for budget and ROI to the company improves reporting. Thus, funded initiatives often are better at tracking progress and measuring their impact on the larger organization as a whole. This valuable data can be used to improve the initiative’s ability to serve members of its target group. This can be a little more difficult for faith-based ERGs, whose membership may be self-limiting, so it’s crucial to agree on how impact will be measured from the start.


Initiatives that have official budgets usually find themselves in a better position to build relationships with other initiatives and external organizations. They have extra resources, greater collaboration opportunities, and more advocacy on behalf of their group. With nearly 5.5 billion people around the world professing a form of faith, many faith groups have access to formal and informal networks on both local and broader levels. Additionally, other internal initiatives are generally more willing to collaborate with groups that can contribute funds to collaborative ventures.

Promotion of diversity and inclusion

Funded initiatives are in a better position to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, having a greater status within a company. Without funding, a faith-based group is often perceived merely as a loose affiliation of adherents.

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Building a Unique Approach

Any successful faith and belief-oriented initiative must take into account the unique characteristics of the company. Professionals and other reliable sources can help in building a successful initiative specific to your company’s needs. Here are some organizations and resources that we recommend:

The goal of the Radiant Foundation is to cultivate a more personal, positive place for faith within modern society through an online community and media.

Learn more

A part of the Radiant Foundation, The Faith and Media Initiative fosters a more accurate, diverse, positive representation of faith in journalism and entertainment.

Learn more

This foundation is dedicated to educating the business community, policymakers, non-government organizations, and consumers about the positive power that faith and religious freedom for all have on workplaces and the economy. This is done through research, conferences, media, and the REDI index.

Learn more

The mission of Interfaith America is to inspire, equip, and connect leaders and institutions to unlock the potential of America’s religious diversity. Interfaith America provides courses, curricula, and tools on the topic.

Learn more

This organization works to combat religious prejudice, confront hate, and build respect for religious difference through events, curriculum, training, and partnerships.

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A part of the Radiant Foundation, Skylight is an app and online community that helps young people develop a meaningful relationship with God as they navigate the complex challenges of life.

Learn more

This organization provides the largest network of full-time workplace chaplains.

Learn more

Into The Unknown: Addressing Roadblocks and Common Concerns

When a faith and belief-based initiative, such as an ERG, is proposed at a company, obstacles can occur, often based on the specific workplace response to spirituality that’s already in place.

David W. Miller, Ph.D., at Princeton's Faith & Work Initiative identifies four common workplace responses to spirituality, which are often driven by a company’s chief Human Resource officer and the company’s general counsel:

  • Faith-avoiding: essentially anti-faith at work.
  • Faith-tolerating: puts up with faith but no formal position or embrace.
  • Faith-based: privileges one tradition.
  • Faith-friendly: embraces the phenomenon of faith. All traditions/world views are treated equally, and the company sees the individual and organizational benefits.

Based on the workplace, roadblocks can appear. Some of these roadblocks are common to the formation of any initiative, while others are unique to the faith and belief category. Here are a few:

Lack of support from management

Management may worry about being seen as endorsing a particular belief system or religion if they support the founding of such a group. For companies whose ERGs are business-oriented, management may not see the business case for a religious-affiliated group as a dimension of DEI at all, especially if the company’s quantifiable diversity goals are not related to religion.

Proselytization and religious coercion fears

Some company leaders may worry that faith-based ERGs and their affiliated members may use sanctioned events and company channels to proselytize and religiously coerce colleagues. This leads management to worry about harassment issues and legal action from affected employees.

Legal and policy concerns

Depending on a company’s location, there may be genuine legal and policy concerns surrounding the treatment of religion that may not affect some other dimensions of DEI; this may make some companies resistant to greenlighting a faith-based ERG. This concern especially holds true for global corporations. Some countries prohibit asking employees anything about their religion. In some countries, it may be dangerous to be identified as being of a particular faith. It is important to note that these are genuine concerns.

Concerns around impact metrics

Due to perceived constraints and concerns around this category of DEI, leaders may worry that obtaining impact metrics commensurate with other DEI efforts within a company would be difficult. Management might be less inclined to invest resources in a group in which success benchmarks are harder to come by.

Lack of institutional expertise

Many corporations may have little experience in dealing with religion and may not see the benefit in having an initiative of this type. They also worry about navigating the faith space and negotiating religiously sensitive topics.

Prevalence of religious stereotyping

Stereotypes of religious communities abound, resulting in a host of misconceptions about adherents. The institution of a faith-based initiative may therefore be perceived as sanctioning intolerance by others. This may make companies very reluctant to engage in this space. The reality, however, is that increased religious accommodation means greater accommodation for all areas of identity. This is known as the “Religion Dividend,” a finding from research by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation on Fortune 500 companies that shows that organizations with higher levels of religious accommodation also have higher levels of gender, race, and sexual orientation accommodation.

Interreligious and inter-group conflict

Some religious groups may have diametrically opposing viewpoints that are central to their identity on sensitive or controversial topics. Such viewpoints may also be in conflict with the views of other groups within a company.

These challenges don’t face every company that pursues faith and belief-oriented initiatives, but they do represent actual and real concerns and challenges. Each of these challenges has been effectively addressed in a diversity of contexts in many different companies.


Establishing Faith Based DEI Initiatives in the Workplace

These frequently asked questions highlight issues that employers may face as their employees seek to practice their religious and other beliefs in the workplace. While providing basic guidance for formulating reasonable workplace policies that will help avoid or minimize problems, this guide is not comprehensive nor should be construed as legal advice. These questions are primarily based on U.S. law and practice, but laws vary somewhat from state to state within the U.S. and significantly from country to country. Those with specific legal questions should seek advice from a competent lawyer. 

These FAQs were developed by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.

1. What is meant by the phrase “religious freedom” as it applies to the workplace?

When considered in relation to the workplace, religious freedom simply means the ability of an individual to believe and act consistently with deeply held religious beliefs while in the workplace. The US Constitution prevents the government from enforcing laws that restrict these rights. In addition, federal law prevents both public and  private employers from discriminating against employees based on religion, and even requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s exercise of their religious beliefs.

Legislation on the federal, state, and local levels provide special protections for the fundamental rights of individuals. The First Amendment to the Constitution specifies rights that protect the vitality of American democracy, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly.

Religious freedom means more than just freedom to believe what you want. It is also freedom to speak about and act on your beliefs without coercion or interference. As with any right, religious freedom is not absolute, but limits to it are justified only if they are narrowly tailored and truly necessary, such as to protect public safety and health.

2. Is there general agreement about how religious faith should be treated in the workplace under the first amendment?

Yes. Because freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by the First Amendment, employers must respect all religious beliefs and reasonably accommodate the religious needs of all employees. In support of this right, Congress included language in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which, among other things, requires that employers not discriminate on the basis of religion. It applies to any employer that has 15 or more employees for at least 20 weeks during the year. 

Under Title VII, employers must not treat employees (or applicants for employment) differently because of religious beliefs or practices, or lack of religious beliefs or practices. Employees cannot be required to participate or refrain from participating in a religious activity as a condition of employment. 

Title VII also requires that employers try in good faith to accommodate the religious needs of their employees upon request, unless it would cause an “undue hardship” to the employer. Title VII prohibits harassment because of religious beliefs or practices and forbids an employer from retaliating against an employee for asserting rights under Title VII.

3. May employees express their religious beliefs or practices at work?

Yes, although reasonable limits may apply, as discussed in answers to the following questions.

4. May employees share their religious beliefs with colleagues?

Yes, but not to the detriment of either the work for which the employee has been hired. If one worker asks about the religious belief of another worker, a free exchange of ideas between them is protected.

Respectful conversation about religion while at work is certainly not less protected than conversations about other topics. These protections do not mean, however, that the discussion is allowed to interfere with the assigned work of either worker, or to disrupt other workers in the vicinity.

5. May employees wear clothing or hairstyles that are required by their religious beliefs while on the job?

Yes, unless the clothing or hairstyle presents a safety or health risk to the employee or others. Under most circumstances, the law requires employers to make a reasonable effort to accommodate religious symbols (such as a Christian cross), clothing (such as a Jewish yarmulke or Muslim headscarf) and hairstyles, including facial hair (such as Sikh uncut hair and beards).

If the employer’s dress or grooming standards prohibit such things, the employee may ask for an exception, known as a “reasonable accommodation.” The employer may not simply refuse the request, but must work in good faith to arrive at a reasonable accommodation, unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer.

The employer has the burden of proving undue hardship in these circumstances. However, the law does not require the employer to adopt the specific accommodation that the employee has requested, even if it is a reasonable one. Rather, the employer is free to come up with its own reasonable accommodation. Courts have decided cases concerning religious clothing and hairstyles in the workplace in a variety of ways, not always in favor of the employee.

6. May an employee have books of scripture, a religious picture, or other religious items on display in the employee’s personal workspace?

Generally the answer is yes, but it depends on the nature of the workspace and the policy of the employer toward all employees. If the employer allows employees to have non-work-related items in personal workspaces, such as photos, posters or other items, then religious items should be allowed as well.

7. How should an employee’s beliefs about religious days of rest or religious holidays be treated in the workplace?

Federal and state law designate certain holidays for which employees are to be given paid time off. Some of these legal holidays are also religious holidays, such as Christmas Day. Federal law does not currently require employers to give time off, paid or unpaid, for other religious observances not included in the list of legal holidays.

However, under Title VII, an employer is required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s request for time off to meet the obligations of the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs, unless it would cause the employer undue hardship.

The employer may not simply refuse to accommodate an employee’s request. Reasonable accommodations might include flexible scheduling, shift swaps, agreeing to work other holidays and the like. An employer may require the employee to use paid time off as part of the accommodation.

8. May employees or employers distribute religious literature in the workplace?

Employers may allow, but are not required to allow, the distribution of literature in the workplace. This includes religious literature. Title VII states that employers may not treat employees differently because of religion. This means that if an employer allows employees to distribute or post personal items in the workplace of a non religious nature, then the employer should also allow similar actions by religiously motivated employees.

9. May employees discuss religious views with customers?

Not unless the employer permits it. An employer may prohibit an employee from discussing religious views with customers. An employer may, however, require the employee to greet customers with “Merry Christmas” or certain other generic religious expressions.

10. May an employer require employees to attend a company-sponsored religious event?


11. What is an employer’s responsibility regarding harassment based on religion?

An employer has an affirmative obligation to maintain a work environment free from harassment based upon religious beliefs or practices, once the employer is made aware of the offensive conduct.  This includes offensive remarks, as well as verbal or physical threats or abuse. The obligation on the employer is not limited to employee behavior only, but also covers others in the workplace, such as owners, supervisors, co-workers and even customers or others regularly within  the workplace.

It is important also to realize that this protection extends to an employee’s co-workers and others who have indicated a preference not to receive the employee’s unsolicited religious communications.


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* Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the specific authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any religious institution or organization, including FAMI. The purpose of the content is to provide personal insights, reflections, and perspectives on matters related to faith and spirituality and media. Readers are encouraged to exercise their own discernment and judgment in evaluating the content presented herein. Additionally, the information presented in these articles is not intended to substitute professional advice, and readers should consult with appropriate legal, medical, or religious authorities or seek guidance from qualified individuals for specific concerns. The author and the publisher disclaim any liability or responsibility for any loss or damage incurred by readers as a result of the use of the information presented in this article.