In the COVID era, prayer invades the workplace

It’s an impressive headline number, but possibly not a surprise: About 115 million American adults have turned to prayer to cope with the pandemic, according to research by the respected Pew Foundation.

More than half have prayed for the pandemic to end – and that was before the spread to the conservative south.

What is more surprising is where some of that prayer is taking place – in the workplace. Religious inclusion programs are a growing trend in corporate America that is being embraced by some of the largest and high profile companies. The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) says that from Google to Facebook and Walmart (the Woolworths of the US), companies from a range of industries are recognising that faith-friendly environments mean better workplaces and better businesses.

“It has become standard practice for US corporations to assure employees of support regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation,” The Associated Press’ David Crary reported.

“There’s now an intensifying push to ensure that companies are similarly supportive and inclusive when it comes to employees’ religious beliefs.

“One barometer: More than 20 per cent of the Fortune 100 have established faith-based employee resource groups, according to an AP examination and there’s a high-powered conference taking place this week in Washington aimed at expanding those ranks.”

Crary quotes RFBF’s president, Brian Grim: “Corporate America is at a tipping point toward giving religion similar attention to that given the other major diversity categories.”

Since April, RFBF’s monthly reporting has heard from  representatives from companies including Intel, American Express, American Airlines, Salesforce and, most recently, DELL Technologies. They have shared about their multi-faith programs aimed at not only encouraging members at work but also reaching out to the communities where they work.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people with indigenous faiths are encouraged to form workplace groups. The RFBF’s ‘Best Practices’ document includes:

“A company should welcome inclusiveness in religion and belief, without making religion or belief a matter of coercion. For example:

  • A company may consider allowing employees to form religious or faith-based employee groups, provided that the company does so on a nondiscriminatory basis.
  • A company may consider creating designated spaces that employees may use for prayer or other religious devotional practices.
  • A company should never allow employees to feel compelled or pressured to participate in religious or faith-based observances or activities. For example, if a group of employees in a religious or faith-based group chooses to have a prayer meeting on company premises, other employees should not be implicitly or explicitly pressured to attend the meeting.”

It also includes policies against discrimination in hiring:

  • “A company should not discriminate against a job applicant if the applicant includes religious experience on a resume.”

and indirect discrimination:

  • “A company should ensure that its dress code policy allows an employee to request a reasonable accommodation if the employee’s religious beliefs require certain grooming and dress practices.
  • A company may ensure that its cafeterias provide menu options for employees whose religious beliefs require certain dietary restrictions.”

Diversity programs in corporations and government are sometimes seen as anti-religious, for example, by protecting sexual minorities. But RFBF points out that true diversity programs will also seek to support religious employees. It argues the case from a pro-business perspective – happier workforces are more productive.

Perhaps it will be that the upsurge in prayer under the servere COVID crisis in the United States – the home of many large corporations – becomes a driver for the expansion of religion being recognised in the workplace.