A Seventh-day Adventist religious freedom leader is urging companies to respect their employees’ religious beliefs not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for business.
Lawyer Dwayne Leslie, associate director of the public affairs and religious liberty department of the Adventist world church, told a gathering of business, political, and religious leaders in Washington that companies that respect employees’ religious beliefs ultimately enjoy higher profitability.
“Sometimes employers assume that accommodating their workers’ religious needs makes for a less efficient workplace,” said Leslie, a panelist at the “Religious Freedom and Business: A Way Forward” event, which explored the relationship between on-the-job religious freedom, workplace productivity, and a healthy economic environment.
“And it’s true that scheduling around an employee’s Sabbath or making exceptions for religiously required clothing sometimes takes negotiation and effort,” he said. “But time and again, we see that protecting these fundamental freedoms ultimately results in a stronger, more diverse, more stable, and more productive corporate workforce.”
Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, the event organizer and a group that educates the global business community about the benefits of respecting religious freedom, equated religious freedom with innovation.
“The freedom to be who you are, wherever you are, is one of the great sources of innovation,” he said.
The Jan. 12 event at the Newseum in downtown Washington showcased a newly developed “corporate pledge” that offers corporations guidance on protecting their workers’ religious freedom rights.
Leslie said recent high-profile court rulings in the United States, such as a Supreme Court decision last year that ruled in favor of a Muslim woman whose job application at the Abercrombie & Fitch retailer was rejected because she wore a headscarf, may have fueled the idea that business interests and religious freedom are usually in competition.
But, he said, “I believe we can do more to help corporate America to see that religious freedom in the workplace is an area where principle and pragmatism converge.”
“It’s important, going forward, that we focus on ways of improving and increasing communication between workers and their employers — communication is always the best place to start,” Leslie said.
Accommodating an employee’s religious belief isn’t an onerous process in most cases, he said.
“Yet it’s something that pays huge dividends for everyone involved,” he said. “It’s good for workers, good for businesses, good for our country, and it’s good for the cause of human rights and religious freedom.”