August 18, 2008

Is There Religion In Your Company?

By Paul Bieber

Last week our presidential candidates were speaking about the role of religion in their lives. We see and hear this every day from the news media, and the pollsters seem to feel that religion will have a large impact on the election. Most, but not all, Americans are affiliated with an organized religion. What does this mean for your glass company? How does religion affect how you operate your business?

The answer is it shouldn’t.

I know, treat people fairly and honestly; do not lie or cheat; and don’t say bad things about other people, or religions. These may be religious tenants, but they are rules that we should all live by….no matter what or if there is a religious factor in your life.

So, what is this blog about?

Religion is a significant part of most Americans’ lives. Let’s see, where religion does impact our businesses? The largest impact is on hiring. You cannot ask some one’s religion; you cannot ask what Church they go to; you cannot ask if they keep a special diet prescribed by their religion; you can’t ask their opinion on religious beliefs; and you cannot make being a follower of a certain religion a prerequisite for hiring.

You can ask if someone is honest, loyal and all of the Boy Scout Oath characteristics. You just can’t ask about religion.

You should ask if the potential employee can work overtime…if they have any work restrictions. If you have a “Bona Fide Occupational Qualification” (BOQ) that says an employee must be available on Friday nights, and a Jewish person will not be available on Friday nights, you may pass on this person. This has to be a legitimate need. Not just a made-up need to help you screen people. If you are hiring for a weekend shift, and the applicant says he cannot work on Sunday morning, from 9 a.m. to noon, then you have the right not to hire. But, if you hire someone for a Monday-Friday job, and later you ask for Sunday O/T, you can’t force someone to come in on Sunday, if they say their religious observations conflict. You can’t punish them, or fire them for not coming in on Sunday, (or Friday night if Jewish) if you didn’t tell the employee at the time of hire that there may be O/T at these times.

Yes, you can hire people of all one religion. You can put religious signs or icons in your showroom. You may mention Biblical quotes in your advertising, or have them written on your truck. But, you may not make being of a certain religion the only criteria for hiring. If you only advertise for help-wanted in Church newsletters, or on Religious Radio Stations, your applicants may fit your desire. The biggest mistake you can make, though, is turning someone down who may otherwise be qualified and wants to work for you at your stated wages, because you don’t know, or disagree with their religion.

It is okay for you to give a discount to your local church when they need glass work? You don’t have to give a discount to every Church that calls you. But if you give every religious group a discount, don’t hold back if a Church you disagree with asks for a price. Legal or not doesn’t matter as much as the bad publicity you can create.

You can close on religious holidays. It is your right to run your business as you see fit, but be sure to pay everyone the same for the day off. This may be no pay…that is okay as long as you do it consistently through your company. If you give employees an option to work on Good Friday, you should also offer the same option for other religious days, such as Ramadan or Passover. Don’t get carried away with this…you can probably find an obscure religious holiday on just about any day of the year. Know your workforce, and set this policy accordingly.

You should also be aware that there are organized religions that don’t celebrate holidays. If an employee is a member of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, they won’t accept a Christmas Bonus. If you give this as a performance bonus, it is okay. If you put “Christmas Bonus” on the check, it will not be cashed. You should be aware of your co-workers so you don’t embarrass yourself or your employee.

If your business niche is to service religious buildings, then advertise it. Tell about your expertise with stained glass, for instance.

You can do a lot with your personal religiosity in your business. You can and should set an example of personal ethics and integrity. You just can’t discriminate in hiring or in pricing with customers.