Manzur Mahmud used to hide when he prayed.
He’d duck down in his cubicle at Dallas’ Texas Instruments or scramble to a friend’s office to conduct two of his five daily Muslim prayers. Now the Bangladeshi engineer walks down the corridor and enters a small prayer room.
North Texas companies are increasingly making space for quiet rooms as Muslim employees play a larger role in the U.S. workplace and feel more secure about verbalizing their faith.
Meanwhile, businesses nationwide are seeing a rise in the number of religious discrimination charges. The changing nature of the workplace is forcing organizations to navigate the nuances of religious acceptance and office productivity.
“People have started coming forward and identifying themselves as Muslims,” said Mr. Mahmud. “And employers are realizing that if their employees are happy, they work better.”
Dallas-based American Airlines has a multipurpose room visited up to four times a day by its Muslim employees who previously prayed in the stairwells. Nortel’s Dallas campus has several scattered quiet rooms available for prayer, and Electronic Data Systems in Plano just opened one last fall.
To aid companies, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new guidelines last week for handling religious diversity issues.
About 2,900 religion-based charges were filed with the EEOC last year, a 13 percent increase from the previous year and double the number of cases in 1992.
The spurt of cases may actually stem from greater diversity in the workplace, said Dianna Johnston, assistant legal counsel for the EEOC. Employees are “much more open about their religion and make it part of their overall life,” she said.
Ms. Johnston said the increasing demands of the workplace heighten the likelihood of conflict since prayer times can coincide with work hours. The most prevalent religious discrimination charges include time off for religious activities and wearing religious garb like a headscarf, she said. . . .
Meditation spots still aren’t commonplace. DiversityInc, a magazine that puts out an annual report on the Top 50 Companies for Diversity, found that 16 percent last year had special religious accommodations.
Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, estimates that less than half of the region’s companies have prayer rooms. He said it’s often something that doesn’t occur to an employer until a Muslim employee mentions it.
Brian Mershon, a spokesman for Fluor Corp., said that is the case with the Irving-based construction company.
“If we had requests from Muslim employees or nursing mothers as well as any prayer room for employees, we would accommodate their requests,” Mr. Mershon said.