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INSIGHT

Race and religion are tough. Don’t make them tougher

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Let’s face it: Race and religion can be difficult topics. Next to gender and sexuality, they often comprise a big part of how we see ourselves and, not surprisingly, how others see us.

That’s obviously true today. Disagreements, even violent confrontations, are occurring around the world every day over these very topics. Not surprisingly, they often find their way into the workplace.

It’s not my job to advise you on how to vote, what church to attend or anything close to that. But I would caution you to also consider a strongly professional rather than a political or proselytizing approach at work. It’s usually the best path for you, your staff, and your patients. It’s certainly a solid plan when keeping fines and lawsuits in mind.

This may go against the grain for some people. A number of religions include a call for followers to testify as to their faith and actively try to convert others. It’s even human nature to share something that has deep personal meaning. As a manager, however, you are also a workplace leader who sets the tone for the entire office, not just yourself. Nationality and ethnic background may have even more room for disagreement. At the very least, you need to keep those sometimes-conflicting constraints in mind.

A recent case bears some relevance. It involved a former employee of an Illinois tire company. Now this obviously was not a medical office, but the employee was Arab and Muslim, a nationality and religion that are widespread in the medical field. The worker reportedly dealt with frequent name-calling that included “Taliban,” “al-Qaeda,” “bin Laden” and even “terrorist.”

To make a long story short, the company was ordered to pay $22,500 to the worker by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The decision also required that the company provide training to its managers on harassment and how to respond to complaints of harassment. They will also be required to submit periodic reports to the EEOC about complaints of national origin or religious harassment or retaliation. No mention was made of a separate lawsuit, but those frequently follow such decisions and can be very costly on their own.

This was probably not the result of a religious crusade by anyone at the business, let alone by someone in management. I’d guess that the alleged perpetrators were anything but religious, at least by my definition. What seems likely is that an environment may have existed where respect for differences was not a priority. My key point is, if you’re pushing your beliefs, it’s difficult to keep others from doing the same thing, even if they’re beyond anything you’d remotely consider. Most of the time, there is room for us to remain faithful to our beliefs while allowing others room for theirs.

That’s not to say you should hide something you strongly believe in at work, or anywhere. But believing in something is different than using it as a club to beat others with or letting others do so. If that’s not reason enough, then consider the potential financial cost. In this case, I think the company might have been lucky. You and your office may not be.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.

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