January 26, 2016
Author: Bobbi K. Dominick
What do all of these things have in common? Fear is sweeping through some parts of the country, and that fear is breaking out into the public forum in the form of an intense focus on terrorist incidents at home and abroad. Employees are subjected to highly publicized statements by political candidates demonizing entire nations, refugees, or those of a particular religious faith. These public discussions leak into the workplace, and have resulted in an increased focus on appropriate employer responses.
On December 23, 2015, the EEOC responded to heightened concern about the treatment of those who are or are perceived to be “Muslim or Middle Eastern.” The EEOC, as part of their responsibility to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin or religion, issued a document called: “Questions and Answers for Employers: Responsibilities Concerning the Employment of Individuals Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern.” The EEOC made it clear that employers cannot tolerate harassment or discrimination against those who are perceived to be of a particular religion, Muslim, or of a particular national origin, Middle Eastern, simply because of public fears or misconceptions. The EEOC reminded employers that they must not discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, country of origin, race or color, and they must not allow harassment based upon these categories, or based upon a perception that someone might be in one of these protected classes. In addition, employers must reasonably accommodate religious beliefs, including accommodation in practice or dress, unless it is an undue hardship.
Some of the examples included:
INSIGHTS FOR EMPLOYERS
Employers who see any of these types of situations within their workplace should act immediately to reinforce respectful workplace behavior. Additional respectful workplace training might be a good idea even for employers not faced with these issues, in a year when political rhetoric will dominate the media and the minds of many U.S. workers. In addition, employers should review their employment policies and perhaps even reissue them to all employees, making sure that the type of behavior outlined by the EEOC in this guidance is strictly prohibited.
Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.