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Recent legislation that was passed in Indiana has ignited fierce debate on the topic of religious freedom in the workplace. As your company endeavors to boost its diversity, religious freedom will play a key role in establishing an office culture of tolerance and inclusivity.

As an employer, it's essential that you understand exactly what behaviors and practices are protected, and what your responsibility is to accommodate staff members of various faiths. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The basics of religious freedom
The protections afforded religion in the workplace are the same as those covering other areas of employee diversity such as race or gender. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits any form of discrimination, including unequal treatment or opportunity, to an employee based on the grounds of his or her religious beliefs.

This means that companies must not only prevent and eliminate any harassment based on religion, but also that employees must be allowed to keep to their faith while at the office. This can include things such as taking time for daily prayer, or observing specific religious holidays. Similar to employees with disabilities, employers must provide reasonable accommodation for workers to observe their religious freedom in the workplace.

Potential for gray area
Religious diversity is essential for establishing and maintaining an inclusive, socially and culturally rich office. However, while upholding this diversity is essential for companies that want to foster an efficient and respectful workplace, it's also important to be aware of any potential gray area that may arise.

The legislation recently passed in Indiana is a prime example of this. As the Society for Human Resource Management noted, the state's enacting of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act has drawn criticism for those who fear that the law may actually work against diversity efforts. For example, this is significant concern about the implication such a law may have on a company's right to deny employment based on something like sexual preference, if that factor plays a significant role in the employer's religious beliefs.

As a small-business owner, the key thing to keep in mind is that while religious freedom is important, it shouldn't override any of the protections covering other groups based on factors such as race, sexual orientation or gender.

PEO companies offer small businesses access to expert HR services without the need to hire on full-time, in-house HR. These companies can be a cost-effective way to ensure compliance with important HR-related policies and legislation.