There is a country contemplating banning Islam from being practiced on it's shores. If this happens would it be wise for locally owned businesses to inquire into the religions of their overseas employees? And to deter their overseas managers from hiring these people? Overseas employees are all in Western countries, NZ, Australia, USA.

It could create issues for employers if Muslim staff came for training and did whatever religious observations they do.

Or would it be better not to check, but to warn all employees that any observation of that religion is illegal and won't be tolerated in XYX country.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio May 20 '16 at 19:51
  • You should go to a politics website, and enquire what kind of non-violent or violent resistance you are expected to perform against that government. My school teachers many years ago told me that in extreme cases I, and every other citizen of my country, would be expected to use lethal force to overthrow an illegal government. – gnasher729 May 21 '16 at 10:55
  • What on Earth for? If I wanted to resist the govt I could just vote for the opposition at elections, but since I don't even bother to vote, I can't complain... – Kilisi May 21 '16 at 15:02

You can't select out candidates based on their religion because that kind of discrimination is illegal in the countries you mention and also highly unethical. That means that you need candidates to self-select out.

That doesn't mean that you should put the fear of god into them over the conditions they'd be working in or otherwise sabotaging their hiring process because that's still discrimination. It means that you need to be crystal clear but entirely matter-of-fact about the requirements of the position.

You need to warn all candidates that the country where they'd be working has banned certain religious observations and while you don't want to infringe on their personal liberties and are not interested in their religious beliefs, candidates need to be prepared to suspend all forms of religious observation and respect the laws of the country they are in for the duration of their employment.

Don't ask about their religion. Warn every single candidate regardless of what you think or know about their cultural background. Once you've given that warning, your next question should be either "Would that be a problem for you?" or "What do you think about that?". While you should be able to trust candidates who tell you that they don't consider it a problem, you do need to have a short conversation about this. You don't want to hire people who are likely to cause trouble once they're on site. That doesn't just mean employees who would secretly keep practising their faith, but also people who would be unable to adapt to a culture that places more limits on personal freedom than they're used to. You don't want to bring in people who would be uncomfortable at your site for any reason. You should already have an extensive intro or presentation on the country's culture and laws that every employee gets before they're sent there. It would be good to integrate a shorter version of it into one of the later interview rounds.

Now, while this is how I feel you should handle this situation, you should discuss the best course of action with HR, legal as well as high-level management of all companies or office locations involved. This has the potential for a hideous amount of backlash so you need a consistent and clearly defined policy on this one.

Note that I've answered from the perspective of hiring employees for medium-term to long-term assignments in the country banning certain religious practices. If the issue is a training session that will only last a few weeks, it would be good to look into alternatives just in case someone is hired who later makes a problem of being sent to that particular country. You could also consider dropping the entire training program over this but I'd advise against doing so if your company will have a significant presence in that country for the foreseeable future with a high level of interaction between the countries (such as would be the case with offshoring). These kinds of training programs aren't just financially attractive, they also promote cultural awareness and personal development.

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    @Kilisi I think my answer is a bit messy, I'll have to see if I can clean it up later. The basic point is that you can't assume that a candidate's personal beliefs will be a problem but that you can check if they are able to meet all the requirements of the job, which includes being able to travel to and work in a country. Treating every candidate the same is the key to avoid discrimination in this case. – Lilienthal May 20 '16 at 14:00
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    To compare: US employers cannot prevent pregnant women from travelling to Zika-affected countries and they can't refuse to hire a pregnant woman "for her own safety" on the grounds that she'd have to travel to such a country. They can make it exceedingly clear that she would have to travel while pregnant and that it's an unchangeable condition of the job. Similarly you can't require candidates to be non-muslim, you can require that they follow local law. – Lilienthal May 20 '16 at 14:03
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    @Lilienthal - unfortunately I can very easily see it happen that such a person would be hired, express no issues, then back out when actually having to travel, and sue you if you fire them. Would you win the case? Maybe. – AndreiROM May 20 '16 at 15:39
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    @AndreiROM True, but that's the risk of doing business in countries with such a different culture. IANAL but based on what I know of the US' anti-discrimination law an employee there would not have a case. The employer is requiring that the employee travel to a certain location, the employee refuses and is fired. I believe the reasons behind the refusal are not germane. Frivolous lawsuits are always a risk of course and it's likely that the situation in other western countries is much more complex. Unfortunately there is no fool-proof solution to filtering out liars in the interview stage. – Lilienthal May 20 '16 at 16:22
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    @Lilienthal: But if you try to put the fear of God in them, what if you pick the wrong God? ;) – Nolo Problemo May 20 '16 at 22:36

A multinational firm would have to abide by the law of each country and locale that it is in. The employee would need to be responsible for knowing the laws of the locale that he or she resides in. Any time an employee travels for the firm, it has to educate and train the employee on the cultural and legal differences of the location he or she is traveling to.

With those procedures documented and in place a multinational firm, or a local one for that matter, has no legal obligation to know the employee's religion or to enforce the law of the local jurisdiction. The firm simply has to abide by it.

The firm should not sponsor or condone illegal activity by allowing the practice of an outlawed religion on its pressies. What an employee does on their own time and in their own home is not the firms concern.

That being said the incarceration or exile of a key employee due to this law would be a potentially costly hurdle. As such the firm should protect itself by asking any employee that is being considered for an exempt (higher tier, usually salaried or management) position if their religious practices violate law X of jurisdiction Y before they are promoted or hired into the position.

Though none of this is bulletproof, as the employee could simply lie, and there is no drug-test equivalent to this law that in itself violates what most would consider basic human rights.

This is a tough question, and bring up a number of things to discuss from the perspective of the firm and the candidate.

How would you answer: "Before we make you SVP of sales, do you happen to practice an outlawed religion?"

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    You could offer them a pork sandwich... but that's beside the issue, it would be the hiring manager overseas who would need to work out a way. Good answer though, well worth an upvote. – Kilisi May 20 '16 at 13:35

If your business relies heavily on employees travelling to and from this mysterious country where Islam is soon to be banned, then you may indeed wish to refrain from hiring people of that belief because it's just going to cause issues down the line. I mean, if such an employee refuses to travel to country XYZ for training what are you going to do, fire him? Then you're facing discrimination lawsuits in the States, Australia, etc. But an untrained employee is a waste of money so ...

Realistically you can still be sued for discrimination in one of those other countries if they catch on that this is your unofficial policy, and there's not always a good way to screen for religion anyway. Another flip side might be that even a Christian employee might refuse to travel to a country which discriminates on religion.

Personally, I think that you should make it abundantly clear to potential employees that they will need to travel for training, and what the implications are. Make it a part of their contract that they will have to go to a country which does not share their views on freedom of religion, etc.

If they raise objections or concerns you know you've got a potential issue on your hands. If not, then that person is open minded enough to just get on with the job even when travelling there for training.

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  • I knew you'd have something pragmatic to say... don't you think it would be harder to sue for an unofficial policy than when you're basically telling the World. Not easy to prove at all, so if you just told them that training in XYX is part of employment, they can look the place up and find out for themselves without any overt input which would put the company squarely in the firing line. – Kilisi May 20 '16 at 13:58
  • @Kilisi - If I were hiring a security guard they would be informed that the job may require they rough some people up, correct? If the applicant is not "comfortable with physical violence" then they're useless to me. Is that discrimination? If you inform potential employees that they will need to travel to a war-torn country where their lives will be in danger, and don't hire them if they refuse, is it still discrimination? The easiest approach is to uhm .. proactively avoid these issues, but then you're trusting the hiring managers to knowingly enforce a policy of discrimination. – AndreiROM May 20 '16 at 14:23

It might not be an employer's business what its employees' religious practices are, but it would also be illegal in the U.S. to base hiring decisions, promotions, etc. on the religious practices of a job candidate or employee. (If travel to this country is a job requirement, the company might get away with it, but probably not without risking a lawsuit, which is likely to be more costly in monetary terms and the bad press that is likely to result than it's worth ... and they have to win the lawsuit, of course.) I can't say for other countries, but suspect at least some western countries have similar laws. As such, the answer to this may vary depending on where you are.

My suggestion would be to make sure Islamic employees never travel to the country in question. This might require require some organizational practices to be changed. For example, it may be necessary to have training done at the location of the trainees, rather than the trainers. Of course either the trainers would need to travel, or new trainers would need to be hired, but that would be less troublesome than having an employee imprisoned because of their religious practices.

Let me state that I strongly disagree with the following and think it's likely to create more problems than it solves in terms of lost institutional knowledge and bad publicity. However, if you are in a country where you can discriminate against a certain religion, a simple solution would be to terminate the employment of all people of the religion in question and hire no more.

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  • Deplorable is a matter of perspective. I think it's a stupid law if they pass it, but I'm not in charge. Having said that witchcraft is illegal in my country and a couple of people go to jail for it every year, is that deplorable as well? – Kilisi May 20 '16 at 14:15
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    @Kilisi: Depends on the "witchcraft" practices: Wiccans gathering to harmlessly celebrate an equinox or solstice, I'd say it's deplorable to make that illegal. On the other hand, human sacrifice should be banned. That said, I'll remove the editorialization. – GreenMatt May 20 '16 at 14:31
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    Unfortunately I agree that even if you make it abundantly clear that travelling to a country which bans - your religion/sexual orientation/etc. -, and the employee agrees, they can still back out of it later, and probably sue you if you fire them. I could easily imagine a lawsuit against you claiming that you're trying to force the employee into unsafe work conditions, etc. Best thing to do is, indeed, to avoid sending those people there. But if that's a big part of your business model then there's no way around it except to not employ them, which is itself discrimination. Stuck in a loop. – AndreiROM May 20 '16 at 15:44
  • @AndreiROM: Or maybe it's time to change your business model. – GreenMatt May 20 '16 at 16:11
  • @GreenMatt - apparently, yes – AndreiROM May 20 '16 at 16:14

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