RELIGION AND WORK by Carol  P. Harvey

Assumption College

In today’s global society, it is useful to learn more about the religions that may be practiced by coworkers. Without some knowledge, individuals may attribute incorrect meanings to others’ behaviors. In addition, organizations may have policies and practices that inadvertently conflict with their employees’ religious beliefs. For example, some organizations do not allow vacation time to be accrued, thus preventing pilgrimages that may require a month of leave. Others require all workers to take Christian holidays and do not capitalize on the opportunity to have non-Christians work on days that have no significance to them. Jewish employees, for example may choose to work on Christmas Eve in exchange for having Yom Kippur off with pay. Because many individuals may be reluctant to discuss their religion or to explain its practices in a work setting, misunderstanding of behavior can result.

The following scenarios depict workplace incidents in which others are not aware of the religious basis for the individual’s behavior. In each case, the employee is put in the limelight because of his/her religion. The supervisor or coworker, who has little or no knowledge of the religious practices that are at the root of these actions, may attribute an incorrect reason for the behavior that they see. These scenarios illustrate that lack of knowledge can lead to conflict, decreased productivity, and diminished motivation for workers as well as managers.


Each scenario illustrates the intersection between religion and the work­place. Pick one scenario,  conduct additional research if needed, and share your answers to the following questions with your classmates on the discussion board. Each question is worth 4 points totaling 16 points for Part A of the assignment.  For Part B, elaborate on another student’s post worth another 4 points.  The total assignment is worth 20 points.

  1. Using only the information provided in the scenario, list the possible attributions (i.e., explanations of why this person is behaving as he/she is without knowing the real reasons behind the behavior) that coworkers and managers in the case might use to explain the person’s behavior without understanding that person’s religion.
  2. Discuss the negative and/or positive effects of these attributions on the work organization.
  3. What should a manager do in this situation?
  4. Explain the religious significance of this worker’s behavior. (NOTE: It is important to this exercise that this is the last step in the discussion.)


  1. Mary Ellen comes to work with a dark spot on her forehead. Several times during the day, coworkers tease her about forget­ ting to wash her face and suggest that she visit the ladies room. 
  2. David sits with his coworkers at a luncheon provided during a meeting. Chicken, with a creamy sauce, salad, and rice are served but he declines to eat and only sips water. People at the table ask him if he is feeling well. He keeps assuring them that he is fine.
  3. Kaleen never attends any company informal or formal social events (drinks after work, trips to a nearby casino, holiday parties, etc.). In addition, in an organization where “open doors” are a strong cultural norm, his door is often closed for short periods of time. During his performance appraisal, his boss tells Kaleen that he needs to become more sociable and accessible if he expects to move into a management position.
  4. Tyler works full time as an assistant manager in a large retail chain store that is open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is company policy that all managers must rotate working on weekends. Tyler has been using many different excuses to avoid working on Saturdays. Although Tyler is a good worker, his boss no longer believes Tyler’s stories and will be noting this behavior in his next performance review.




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