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Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Diversity and inclusion have many, many dimensions, because human diversity expresses itself in so many different ways, from race to biological sex to gender identity to sexual orientation, national origin, religion and more.

In the U.S., religion isn’t always top of mind when it comes to thinking about diversity and inclusion, because Americans are so accustomed to divorcing religion from so many areas of public life, particularly in government and in the workplace.

But just because Americans don’t tend to think hard about religion in the office doesn’t mean people adhering to certain religions are always treated in an inclusive manner. In fact, the opposite often happens, as Adam Barnes writes in an article for The Hill.

Religious Discrimination More Rampant—and More Subtle—Than You May Think

“Members of three major world religions face discrimination in the workplace, but each experience it in different ways, according to new research,” Barnes writes. “Researchers from Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP) drew their conclusions from an analysis of 194 in-depth interviews with Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and non-religious employees to determine how members of each group perceived their experiences with workplace discrimination.”

The authors of the study found that religious-based discrimination doesn’t necessarily involve hiring, firing and promotion decisions. Instead, it often involves more subtle forms of discrimination, such as verbal microaggressions, stereotyping and social exclusion. While all three religious groups covered experienced these types of discrimination, the study found that they experience them in different ways.

For example, Christians often reported being called names like “holy roller” for taking moral stances on certain issues. Muslims and Jews reported feeling a need to conceal their religious affiliation on the job, to a far greater extent than did Christians.

Tackling Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Companies can take affirmative steps to create a workplace that feels more inclusive of religious differences. This can include a policy explicitly giving Muslim employees time and space to pray during the workday or observing a diverse set of religious holidays. Such observances don’t need to mean giving employees the day off, but they could involve things as simple as decorations or company-provided snacks and refreshments in the breakroom, for example.

Because Americans don’t always talk about their religious affiliation at work, it can seem like a relatively unimportant issue in terms of diversity and inclusion. But employers should be aware that data suggest employees often feel marginalized or discriminated against based on their religious affiliation and that there are steps employers can take to mitigate those impacts and perceptions.

Perceptions matter. Be inclusive!

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.


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