ISIS and the ongoing state of affairs in the Middle East are almost daily headlines in the news. The US Presidential debates have also broached the subject of Syrian refugees. For many people these are emotional topics that could have negative repercussions in the workplace depending on your employee population. The EEOC reminds us that there are protections against religious and ethnic discrimination that employers must abide by.
The EEOC specifically says:
“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, country of origin, race, or color. Employers are prohibited from discriminating in all aspects of employment, including hiring, job assignments, pay, and termination. In addition, employers must reasonably accommodate religious practices or dress, unless it is an undue hardship. Employers also are responsible for preventing or promptly correcting illegal workplace harassment. Finally, retaliation against someone who complains about a discriminatory practice, files a charge, or assists in an investigation of discrimination violates Title VII.”
When you get a subject that causes as much emotional reaction as the problems with Middle East terrorism and the fear it may spread to the US employers have to be on the lookout for adverse effects in the workplace. To that end the EEOC has published some documents that provide employers with some guidance by answering questions with specific scenarios.
One such scenario and the answer is:
Muhammad, who is Arab American, works for XYZ Motors, a large used car business. Muhammad meets with his manager and complains that Jeff, one of his coworkers, regularly calls him names like “the local terrorist,” and “ISIS.” How should their manager respond?
Managers and supervisors who learn about objectionable workplace conduct based on religion or national origin are responsible for promptly taking steps to correct the conduct by anyone under their control. If, after an investigation, XYZ Motors ultimately determines that Jeff has harassed Muhammad, it should take disciplinary action against Jeff that is significant enough to ensure that the harassment does not continue.
Workplace harassment and its costs are often preventable. Clear and effective policies prohibiting ethnic and religious slurs, or other related offensive conduct, are important to prevent harassment. Confidential complaint mechanisms for promptly reporting harassment are critical, and these policies should be written to encourage people to come forward. When harassment is reported, the focus should be on action to end the harassment and correct its effects on the complaining employee. Corrective action could include counseling, a warning, or more severe discipline for the harasser.
I conducted some training the other day where I specifically said that the use of nicknames, such as in this case, can get a company in trouble. My example was actually age based, with calling someone Grandpa, but the fallout can be the same.
The guidance is provided in two documents. These are:
Questions and Answers for Employees: Workplace Rights of Employees Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern
Questions and Answers for Employers: Responsibilities Concerning the Employment of Individuals Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern
If you have, or are likely to have, employees who may fall into these categories this will be well worth the time to read these documents. In fact, just as a reminder on discrimination issues it would be well worth the time to read this stuff.