Faith at Work

April 29, 2008 8:55:51 PM PDT
Some say it's embracing diversity; others believe it's asking for trouble.But the idea of religion in the workplace is losing its taboo.

It feels like Sunday morning, with its songs of praise and rousing sermon. But if you look closely, you'll notice the worshipers are not only clad with open bibles but also work IDs. It's actually Wednesday at lunchtime at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. The pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church on the city's South Side is bringing church to work.

"Initially, it was the boardroom because we were thinking about as we would bring a spiritual setting into the corporate sector or corporate America," said Charles Jenkins, pastor, Fellowship MB Church. "It's also designed to come alongside employers and companies to give principles that would enable them to become better employees."

The concept of faith-friendly workplaces is becoming more popular. Ford, American Express and Tyson are among the larger companies considered leaders in the movement. Yet some attorneys caution that bringing religion to work could open the door to trouble. Employers are also warned against mandating participation. And workers who do not join in can not be punished.

"There's nothing wrong with an employer saying whatever my employees need to practice their religion, for example for Muslims a place for them to do their daily prayers, nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when you provide something to one religion and then when the next religion comes along and you say uh-uh, only this one," said John Hendrickson, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The global banking and financial services firm, HSBC, just built its new headquarters in north suburban Mettawa. The 560,000-square foot building includes a "quiet room."

"Having a quiet room, a dedicated space in a really large new building is just one of the ways we try to make employees feel good about being here and that we value their diversity," said Brian Little, Senior Vice President, HR, HSBC North America. "I think this will be a trend that you'll start to see with other corporations down the road."

But executives say they realize they are blazing a new trail. The company has set up ground rules in effort to avoid offense.

"We want to be respectful of others so instead of having for example literature in place for example, we don't have a CD player in here and those types of things because we really expect for employees to understand that not everyone will have the same belief," said Little.

Some employees need only show up to work to get a spiritual fix. At the Family Christian Health Center in south suburban Harvey, most staff meetings begin with a song and a prayer.

Co-founder Dr. Lisa Green says when she started the clinic, she wanted the Christian theme carried throughout.

"What you'll find is that there are some people who had no belief, didn't necessarily believe in God, didn't necessarily believe in anything and we have not sat them down to try to change their minds or to criticize them and tell them their wrong," said Green. "Our mission is to provide quality health care in the life that represents Christ.

The majority of the religious discrimination complaints filed with EEOC reportedly charge that their employer does not accommodate the workers' practices. It is illegal for an employer to question an applicant about religious beliefs during the hiring process.

Related Links:

www.theboardroomonline.org

www.eeoc.gov

www.hsbc.com

www.iphca.org

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