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You're likely well aware of the doctrine separating church and state in the U.S. In the workplace, the diverse array of employees means that companies everywhere have a team composed of varied individuals of differing faiths. The balance to respect the religious freedom of these individuals with the desire to keep religion out of public spaces as much as possible means employers have to tread carefully on matters of religion.

Despite the old standby that ensures religious matters and official matters don't mix, there seems to be a growing number of employees in the workforce who are openly religious at work. The question facing employers is what does this mean for potential compliance issues, and how can they work to establish a workplace that's respectful and welcoming?

How does religion manifest in the office?
Just as there are many faiths that employees can practice, there are a variety of ways these religious beliefs make their way into the workplace. Some religions, for example, may require the employee to take the day off for religious observance. Other workers may wish to dress in a way that is consistent with and emblematic of their beliefs. It isn't always easy to predict employee interactions that are motivated by and reflective of religion, so it's important to emphasize the need for communication to everyone in the office. If an employee requires a specific accommodation, it's up to them to let management know so that details can be worked out.

What are some of the problems?
Every company wants to have a reputation for being tolerant and welcoming. However, while no business owner is explicitly discriminatory, there are ways in which company decisions may rub up against the protection of religious freedom. Human Resource Executive Online, for example, highlighted a lawsuit being brought against clothing company Hollister. The apparel retailer is being sued by an applicant who claims she wasn't hired because she wears a hijab, a type of religious dress. According to the source, the company claims the issue isn't one of discrimination, but rather one of branding and preserving a specific company image.

Issues such as these can be complicated to navigate, especially for small-business owners. Luckily, PEO companies are on hand to provide expert advice and HR services so executives can ensure they're remaining in compliance without having to financially support an in-house HR department.