Saturday, February 20, 2016

France - and America - Struggle With Faith on the Job

In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, France's strict legal separation of religious and civic life which formally discourages, and in some situations expressly bans, public religious expression is ruffling feathers, particularly with Muslims.  Personally, I approve of the policy and wish that America had a similar approach to keeping religion out of the work place.  True, it would prompt screams of religious persecution from Christofascists who believe their rights trump those of everyone else, but at some point, but at some point dress codes and restrictions on conduct are in keeping with some types of jobs.  If one refuses to comply, the solution is simple: find other employment. I suspect that as time goes by, America will face a similar balancing act, except it will be right wing Christians who will be making the loudest demands for special rights.  Indeed, the legislatures in Georgia and West Virginia along with Virginia have passed bills granting special rights to religious extremists (thankfully, the Virginia bill is headed towards a veto).  The New York Times looks at the issue in France.  Here are excerpts:
Reconciling the religious precepts of observant Muslims with the secular norms in the European workplace has long been a sensitive subject. France’s strict legal separation of religious and civic life — a legacy of the French Revolution known as laïcité — formally discourages, and in some situations expressly bans, public religious expression. It is a brand of secularism that coexists uneasily with Islamic traditions, making workplace negotiations about religious practice particularly difficult and prone to misunderstandings.

The issues have become thornier after the latest wave of terrorist activity, including the November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. With much of the region on edge, the French government has set a forceful tone, granting sweeping emergency powers to the police and stepping up the scrutiny of mosques, Islamic associations and individuals. The sense of unease is particularly palpable for companies operating in sensitive areas like transportation, security and infrastructure.

Adding to workplace conflicts like the one at Securitas, as well as reports of tensions at other large employers, is that many Muslims have become more assertive in fighting stigmatization on the job. But many managers and union leaders in France report feeling ill equipped to respond to employee demands for things like dedicated prayer rooms or pork-free canteens — let alone to detect and combat genuine radicalization at work.

“Today, we are in a very complicated situation,” said Philippe Humeau, a researcher at InAgora, a consultancy that specializes in religion and the workplace.

While France’s workplace rules around religion are relatively distinct, the broad concerns are playing out globally, as countries confront the rise in terrorist activities. . . .  “Most companies don’t know much about Islam,” he said. And in the current climate, “we are seeing companies confuse strict religious practice, which is already difficult to accept in France, with radicalization.”

The risk is that companies, in a quest to protect their staff and their clients, unfairly profile certain employees.

The security company said the beard rules, and the subsequent firings, adhered to the law. As a private company working on behalf of public sector clients like the airport, Securitas said it must conform to France’s strict secularism laws.

“We are confident,” Michel Mathieu, the head of Securitas’s French operations, said, in reference to the decision to fire the Orly guards. The company has not accused the guards of any illegal activities, nor has it presented any evidence that they engaged in radical behavior on the job. But he said that recent events had led Securitas to revisit its approach to all forms of religious practice in the workplace.

What some might view as overt religious profiling, Mr. Mathieu insisted had become a necessity for a company like Securitas, whose mission is to protect against potential dangers that now include Islamic terrorism. The risks, he added, were no longer abstract. Last year, Securitas alerted the French authorities to four security agents who, despite a rigorous vetting process that includes multiple background checks, were found in possession of jihadist propaganda on the job.

The principle of laïcité, however, applies only to those who work in France’s vast public sector economy. For private companies like Securitas, the situation is murkier. . . . .  Some labor union leaders complained that managers, fearful of complaints from Muslim employees, had long tolerated religious behavior on the job that was explicitly prohibited by the company’s own policies. 

Officially, France’s vigorous brand of secularism applies to all religious faiths. But over the last decade, regulations on laïcité (pronounced lie-EE-see-tay) have tended to focus on Islam. A law prohibiting government employees and high school students from wearing head scarves and other “conspicuous” religious attire was introduced in 2004. A specific prohibition against women wearing full-face veils in public went into effect in 2011.

Opinion polls show such bans have broad public support — and they have been upheld recently by Europe’s top human rights court. But they are resented by many of France’s five million Muslims who see the rules as unfairly stigmatizing their religion.

Under French labor law, private employers are required to respect the religious freedom of their employees, meaning that such companies are expected to tolerate religion on the job. Only proselytizing and acts of pressure toward other employees are expressly banned.

The regulations do, however, allow for a number of exceptions, like employee health and safety, operational continuity and protecting commercial interests. . . . In strict practice, the rules mean that an employee who accepts a job at a butcher shop, for example, could not refuse to handle pork. A train driver would not be allowed to stop on the tracks to pray. A waitress could not decline to serve alcohol to customers.

Employers indicate that conflicts over religion in the workplace are on the rise. A 2015 survey of 1,300 French companies by the Observatory of Workplace Religious Practice, a research group based at the Institute of Political Science in Rennes, France, found that 12 percent of human resources managers had faced disputes over religious practices that were difficult to resolve, up from 6 percent in 2013. Among the most difficult situations cited included employees’ rejection of the company’s authority to set limits on religious behavior as well as refusals by some men to work alongside women, either as a colleague or a boss.
There is more that is worth a read.   Given my view that religion is toxic and an embrace of ignorance, I admittedly have little sympathy for anyone regardless of faith who cannot let go of what amounts to superstition, myths and ignorance.  They, not society are the ones that need to change.  If you want to live in a backward country that places adherence to myths and legends ahead of modernity, then move to one of the hell holes in the Middle East or Africa.  And this applies to Christofascists as much as Muslims.  It's the 21st century, not 1000AD.  The toxicity of religion needs to be eradicated.

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