It is easy for employers to lose sight of the obligation to protect all employees regardless of national origin or religion with all the heated political rhetoric we hear right now. But it is still against every federal and state civil rights law for an employer with 15 or more names on the payroll to allow any workplace harassment or discrimination on the basis of where someone is from, what language they speak or what religion they practice.
Since 2001, religious and national origin discrimination cases filed by Muslims and others of Middle Eastern ancestry have increased. Similarly, when illegal immigration is a hot topic, employees of Mexican heritage are often targeted for discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission now receives approximately 3000 charges each year about religious discrimination and 9000-10000 charges of national origin discrimination in the workplace.
In some circumstances, the discrimination is quite blatant. In Huri v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois (7th Cir. 2015), the Muslim plaintiff of Saudi Arabian origin alleged that her supervisor was a devout, vocal Christian who was unfriendly to her from the beginning. The supervisor allegedly referred to one of Huri’s colleagues as a “good churchgoing Christian” while calling Huri “evil”. The supervisor reportedly also made a show of saying Christian prayers in the workplace while holding hands with employees other than Huri.
Any employer should be able to quickly recognize the legal and morale implications of such behavior and correct it. But other questions arise when well-meaning employers are confronted with an employee who may be from a culture or religion that the employer is unfamiliar with. That’s why in 2016 the EEOC released guidelines specifically about preventing discrimination against employees on the basis of national origin. These guidelines join the EEOC’s specific guidance on the workplace rights of employees who are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern and the EEOC’s guidance on best practices to prevent religious discrimination in business settings.
What does an employer need to do to prevent or address any hostility in the company towards an employee on the basis of that employee’s national origin or religion? Continue reading Religious and National Origin Discrimination in Heated Political Times