24 June 2022

Workplace Religious Discrimination

Welcome back. I don’t often blog about religion, though in recent years I have reviewed studies on Religion and Science, Religion and Millennials and Accepting Evolution. And now I’ll add one more.

During my hiatus, researchers affiliated with Rice University, the University of Texas and Wheaton College published a study on how religious discrimination is perceived in the workplace. I flagged the paper when it appeared and finally caught up with it. I found it interesting and thought you might too.

Study Background

Discrimination in the workplace has been studied in depth, but not religious discrimination. Charges of religion-based discrimination in the workplace filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from fiscal year 1992 (the first year the EEOC began reporting these data) to FY 2020 increased by 73%. Over the same period, charges due to other sources of discrimination generally decreased (sex, -1.8%, race, -25%, national origin, -14%).

Religion-based workplace complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, FY 1997 to FY 2010. Although a small proportion of overall charges (3.6% percent as of FY 2020), their growth illustrates the need to study religious discrimination more fully (graphic from The Plain Dealer, www.cleveland.com/business/2011/11/religion_and_the_workplace_don.html).

Behaviors creating a hostile work environment on the basis of an employee’s religious identity are considered harassment and are illegal. Nevertheless, more subtle behaviors--religious microaggressions--not reflected in official legal frameworks may still be perceived by employees as negative or unfair.

To highlight the ways employees perceive workplace religious discrimination and othering (being treated as others, not fitting in with the group), the researchers conducted a national survey of 11,356 members of a Gallup Panel. They followed that with 194 interviews with 159 Christians, 10 Muslims, 13 Jews and 12 nonreligious survey respondents. 

The study focused on Christian, Jewish, Muslim and nonreligious people in the workplace. (graphic from www.ajc.org/issues/interreligious-relations).
Perceived Religious Discrimination is Common
In the national survey, 27% of respondents perceived religious discrimination during their working tenure, with larger proportions of Muslim (63%) and Jewish (52%) respondents and 27% of nonreligious respondents. Of Christian subgroups, 36% of evangelical Protestants, 24% of other Christian/other Protestants and roughly 20% of Catholics and mainline Protestants reported religious discrimination.

In interviews, all respondents described similar perceived unfair or differential treatment (e.g., name-calling and stereotyping, social exclusion and othering, negative experiences tied to religious holidays or display of religious symbols); however, their accounts revealed nuances in individual experiences as well as differences between majority and minority groups’ experiences.

Verbal Microaggressions and Stereotyping
The most common form of religious discrimination was verbal microaggressions, such as name-calling, mocking, ridicule and uncomfortable joking, which could be accompanied by other forms of harassment or a sense of being judged or stereotyped.

Jewish and Muslim respondents described microaggressions tied to anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic stereotypes, which reinforced ideologies used to justify violence against Jews and Muslims. Verbal microaggressions were accompanied by racial/ethnic or national origin discrimination, underscoring how religious discrimination targeting minority groups is often entangled with racism, nativism and white nationalism.

Evangelical Christians described being stereotyped as narrow-minded, judgmental or thinking they were better than others. They often linked these instances to taking a moral stand or religious visibility and being censured for having integrity. Such narratives might also serve to reinforce a sense of evangelical distinctiveness.

Social Exclusion and Othering
Several Jewish and Muslim respondents felt coworkers treated them as exotic, foreign or fragile because of their religion.

Evangelical Christians described how coworkers stopped conversations when they approached, excluded them in the workplace and never invited them to after-work events. For some, the sense of hostility or feeling unwelcome was enough to leave their jobs or apply for specific jobs.

Fearing social exclusion or censure, nonreligious people described feeling compelled to downplay or hide their nonreligion.

Religious Holidays and Symbols
Jewish and Muslim respondents described struggles around issues of religious attire. Some concealed or downplayed their religious identity to forestall mistreatment and hostility.

Several Christians described hostility from superiors when they observed religious holidays or displayed religious symbols.

Nonreligious people shared how coworkers’ religious expression around holidays made them uncomfortable and how accommodations for religious people could cause a sense of unfair treatment toward the nonreligious.

Comment on wishing “Happy Holidays” (from www.religioustolerance.org/xmas_conflict1.htm).
Wrap Up
I was disappointed how little seems to have changed over the past 50 plus years. I was also concerned about reading too much into such small samples.

But as the researchers note, studying groups alongside one another provides the fullest picture of workplace religious discrimination and points the way toward further research of how both majority and minority groups perceive discrimination.

Thanks for stopping by.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules on religion-based discrimination: www.eeoc.gov/religious-discrimination
Study of religious discrimination in the workplace in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World: journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/23780231211070920
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/946187

No comments:

Post a Comment