How to manage non-conventional beliefs in the workplace
As world views change and people are exposed to different issues, opinions and insights, so too must organisations be willing to adapt their policies to incorporate non-religious beliefs. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HR Business Unit at CRS Technologies, notes that what was previously relegated to the fringes of society has become more prevalent in the modern workplace.
“Beside flat-earthers, there has been a rise in Pastafarians who promote a light-hearted view of religion while advocating the belief in the flying spaghetti monster as their deity,” he says. “The Employment Equity Act legislates against discrimination on beliefs and religious grounds. Perhaps most telling is the line that states ‘…or for any other arbitrary reason’. This would include non-conventional beliefs, even those some might consider to be illogical or uninformed,” he says.
When it comes to the protection of non-religious beliefs, Myburgh says it is always advisable for the company not to discuss religion and beliefs in the workplace. “This can lead to conflict and usually does not end well for the parties involved. Furthermore, this can result in the creation of unnecessary ‘factions’ inside the business that can negatively impact productivity and morale.
“These matters should be covered in the organisation’s Employment Equity policy. But regardless of what is defined in the policy, people should never impose their beliefs on others. While they might have a right to preach what they believe in, other parties also have the right to refuse to listen.”
However, unfair discrimination in any form is forbidden by the Employment Equity Act. For a business, it is simply a matter of putting this into practise.
Myburgh notes that “even though companies do not have a responsibility to grant additional benefits when it comes to beliefs, they should try to accommodate employees in this regard, as much as it is operationally possible. Companies do have the right to refuse leave if it is felt that the leave will impact negatively on their operations.
Practically speaking, companies cannot draw a line when it comes to belief systems. The only area where some leeway exists is if those beliefs negatively impact people at work. For example, burning incense in the office could become a health and safety issue.
“Beliefs are a listed as a discriminatory ground in the Employment Equity Act and must be included in the company code of conduct. If the code of conduct is breached, the perpetrator must be disciplined accordingly. Furthermore, these non-traditional beliefs do not have to impact on morale. If anything, it shows the company’s willingness to embrace diversity in the workplace and openness to generate engaging discussions,” Myburgh concludes.