The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is cracking down on religious discrimination in the workplace, particularly that committed against Muslim and Arab workers, write Robert Meyer and David Woodard of law firm Poyner Spruill:
“The EEOC reports that in the initial months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Commission saw a 250% increase in the number of religion-based charges involving Muslims. Since that time, the EEOC states that it has continued to track an increase in such charges, as well as those alleging national origin discrimination against those with Middle Eastern background. While the Commission does not specify how many of those charges were found to have merit, it does report that it has filed nearly 90 lawsuits against employers, many of which involve alleged harassment on the basis of religion and national origin.”
For employers and HR managers, that means greater risks for EEOC lawsuits targeting practices that may infringe on the rights of Muslim employees. Three specific areas to watch?
1. Dress codes:
“Sometimes the employer dress code comes into conflict with employee religious beliefs (e.g. employee wearing Jewish yarmulke, Muslim headscarf or Christian cross). Employers then need to balance the rights of their employees to practice their religion with the employerʼs right to manage their business. Courts have found, however, where the impact on the employerʼs business is minimal, the religious rights of the employee must be respected.” (Snell & Wilmer)
2. Time off requests:
“The EEOC reached a $70,000 settlement of a lawsuit on behalf of a practicing Muslim who was denied the use of earned vacation time for an extended vacation to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.” (Fisher & Phillips)
3. Workplace policies on prayer:
“… an employer’s agents are permitted to hold prayer in the workplace and are also required to permit it among its employees. The First Amendment protects private sector employers and employees from governmental interference with the exercise of these free speech rights. While offering prayer may be a constitutionally-permissible practice, it nevertheless carries the risk of creating tensions among employees who do not share the same beliefs and, if taken too far, may be used as evidence of religious harassment or discrimination.” (Dinsmore & Shohl)
- EEOC Continues Focus on Religious and National Origin Discrimination Involving Muslim and Arab Communities – Poyner Spruill LLP
- The Ten Commandments of Religious Discrimination – Snell & Wilmer L.L.P.
- Work-Faith Conflicts And The EEOC – Fisher & Phillips LLP
- Accommodating Religion in the Workplace is a Balancing Act – Dinsmore & Shohl LLP
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