How some companies lead the way on religious accommodations

Written by William C. Duncan

June 22, 2022

Equinix, a real estate investment company in California, wanted to help its employees understand the religious obligations of other employees, so it “held several panels to help employees better understand the Muslim holiday [Ramadan].”

During a 2021 panel organized by Equinix — and attended by employees from Google, Salesforce, PayPal and Apple — Muslim employees shared childhood memories of Ramadan, said Marsie Sweetland, founder of Equinix’s FaithConnect initiative. The panel included a segment during which non-Muslim employees had the opportunity to ask questions like, “‘What do we say? Happy Ramadan?’”

Participants also received practical suggestions about how to be culturally sensitive, said Sweetland. “During Ramadan it might not be time to have a luncheon,” she said. “If you do, pack to-go boxes so Muslim employees can take them home” to eat after they break their fast.

Government policymakers sometimes struggle to craft laws and regulations that appropriately accommodate the beliefs and practices of minority religions. In past years, the resulting disputes have been resolved in court.

The Religious Freedom and Business Foundation issued a report in May about efforts of businesses to accommodate the religious practices of their employees.

For the “Corporate Religious Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Index Report,” the foundation surveyed U.S. and Global Fortune 500 and other companies, and supplemented these results with a questionnaire filled out by other companies, to learn about corporate policies towards religious employees. The 10 measures the survey addressed were:

  1. Featuring religion on the company’s diversity webpage.
  2. Sponsoring “faith and belief employee resource groups.”
  3. Sharing best practices with other organizations.
  4. Addressing religion in diversity training.
  5. Providing chaplains or similar services.
  6. Being “attentive to how religion impacts stakeholders.”
  7. Accommodating religious needs of employees.
  8. Establishing clear procedures for reporting discrimination.
  9. Employees going to religious diversity conferences.
  10. Matching donations to religious charities.

The report highlights some examples of religious accommodations made by employers:

  • Intuit offers a resource “where any employee can open a live-chat to ask any HR related question and connect with a live specialist to answer their questions. This offers an opportunity for anyone with a religious accommodation need or question to access help understanding our policies in full. Instructions on how to request a religious accommodation are available on Intuit’s benefit page on the companywide intranet for all current employees.”
  • Accenture provides “religious literacy training [which] includes specific guidance on requesting accommodations (food, time off, prayer space).”
  • American Airlines hosts “Abrahams Tent Events,” which include guest speakers, often clergy “who teach and educate all team members on the importance of our various faiths and beliefs” and answer questions. At one event, the airline reported that “we had three of our Senior VPs speak specifically on the importance of their faith and belief and its impact and significance in their lives and careers.”

Other companies, organizations and governments could learn from examples like these. Diverse communities can live together warmly, peacefully and respectfully when people of faith understand their rights, others are educated about how to make appropriate religious accommodations, and the religious commitments of others are understood and honored.

These principles provide a productive blueprint for accommodations in many areas.

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