EEOC Provides Guidance Regarding Muslim and Middle Eastern Employees

On the heels of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang recently issued a statement to “Address Workplace Discrimination Against Individuals Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern.”

Along with the statement, the EEOC released two “resource documents” to provide guidance to employees and employers on how to handle workplace situations involving discrimination against individuals who are, or are perceived to be, Muslim or Middle Eastern. The FAQs and answers are provided separately for employers and employees.

The EEOC reiterates some well-established, common sense concepts. For instance, employers may not refuse to hire someone because of his or her religion, national origin, race, or color. In an example the EEOC uses, an employer appeared “startled” when a new employee showed up for work wearing a hijab. The Commission explains in its release that refusing to hire a person because of his or her religion or national origin is unlawful, period. Even if the employer reacted as it did because of concerns about how customers would react, that would be no saving grace.

In another example, the EEOC encourages employees to review company anti-harassment and anti-retaliation procedures following terrorist events so that watercooler talk does not cross the line (and can be properly addressed if it does).

On the employer side, the EEOC documents remind employers to prevent discrimination in employment decisions. The Commission suggests that companies remind managers and staff “that discrimination based on religion or national origin is not tolerated by the company in any aspect of employment, including hiring. Employers may decide to train or retrain all employees who conduct hiring and issue or reissue hiring standards that emphasize objective, job-related criteria.”

In a scenario on harassment, the EEOC offers a reminder to employers: “Managers and supervisors who learn about objectionable workplace conduct based on religion or national origin [or other forms of discrimination] are responsible for promptly taking steps to correct the conduct by anyone under their control.” Employers should respond with appropriate disciplinary action following investigations.

Further, “[c]lear 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.”

And, on background investigations, the EEOC reminds employers that it should apply “the same pre-employment security checks that apply to other applicants for the same position.”

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