Dietary restrictions are a common and difficult issue to address when preparing clients to succeed in the U.S. workplace. This post will focus specifically on how to understand and discuss Muslim prohibitions against drinking alcohol or eating pork. Many clients are reluctant to touch those products or work anywhere that serves or sells them.
What do you need to understand? What’s a reasonable observance vs. resistance to “inappropriate” work? How can you balance respect and practicality when it comes to accepting the first available job?
What is the correct Muslim religious position about working with pork and alcohol?
As with interpretations of other religions, there are divergent opinions on this issue within Islam, so depending on who you talk to you may get different answers on what the “right answer” is.
Two friends I trust recommended seekersguidance.org as one credible online source of answers. Read their response about working at a supermarket that sells pork and alcohol, which they say is permissible. But what about serving pork and alcohol in a restaurant or washing dishes that held those things? The answer is open to interpretation.
5 Tips from your peers
It’s uncomfortable to give advice about a religion you don’t practice. Here are several suggestions and talking points used by your peers, some of whom are Muslim.
- Consult local religious leaders or elders you trust. They are likely to have helped with similar questions in the past. You might even be able to invite them to speak at a staff meeting or special job readiness session to provide broader education on all kinds of religious questions.
- Bring in a former client who struggled with the same worries to speak to new clients. It’s always helpful to hear from someone who’s been in your shoes. Clients will appreciate hearing from others in their community who have navigated these issues. Former clients can also provide helpful insight to non-Muslim staff members.
- Wear gloves. Gloves are usually a mandatory safety precaution for dishwashers. Conveniently, they will shield your skin from touching something forbidden. If your job is not dish-washing (maybe busser or food runner), you could ask for permission to wear thin latex gloves. They are widely available by the box. Your employer might not pay for them, but they are not expensive.
- Serving or pouring alcohol might be a different matter. It is very common for Muslims of all branches to be uncomfortable serving or pouring alcohol. The restrictions are a bit more tolerant related to carrying it in boxes or putting unopened bottles on shelves (common in many hotel jobs where restaurant and bar work is often done by the same staff members).
- Rely on the basic concept of freedom of choice and consequences. Our clients are adults and they have the right to make their own decisions. Our job is to provide them with information they can use to make those decisions. Decisions have consequences. Finding a job can take a long time. The more barriers or conditions the job seeker demands, the longer it can take. If they still do not speak much English, they may not have many types of jobs to consider right now. If they refuse any job related to kitchen work, that could put their family self-sufficiency at risk.
And, what about meat packing or processing jobs?
Much of the same advice applies. Be careful to explain that clients considering this type of job may be expected to handle pork, as well as other types of meat if this is the case. It is very rare for a company to be able to accommodate an employee by allowing them only to work with non-pork products. You can discuss it with employer partners in advance but avoid referring candidates who will later refuse to do part of the job.