Islamophobia in the Workplace


By Ralph E. Stone

Are Muslims discriminated in the workplace? Given the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S.-Iran confrontation, and the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya, I assumed there would be some discrimination. However, I expected most of the discrimination would be against women, African Americans, Latinos, and lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender persons.

I was surprised then to learn that although Muslims make up only two percent of the U.S. workforce, they filed nearly 25 percent of religious-discrimination claims in 2009. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), during the past fiscal year, it received a record high of 100,000 charges of discrimination, a slight increase over fiscal year 2010. In 1997, the religious-discrimination complaints made to the EEOC were 1,709, and by 2010, they had risen to 3,790. Post-9/11 through 2011 saw a 150 percent rise in workplace-discrimination claims by Muslims. The increase in discrimination claims was predominately by Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs or Islamophobia. Most of the complaints alleged harassment and termination of employment.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 41 U.S.C.§§2000e, et seq. and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, Cal. Gov. Code §§12,900-12,996. prohibit employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. Under both federal and state law, an employer must offer a reasonable accommodation to resolve a conflict between an employee’s sincerely held religious belief and a condition of employment, unless such accommodation would create and undue hardship for the employee’s business.

employers with 15 or more employees must comply with Title VII, which also covers most unions and employment agencies. Federal law requires employers to accommodate headscarves, prayer breaks, and other religious practices based again on sincere religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

For example, EEOC Guidelines state that when an employer has a dress or grooming policy that conflicts with an employee’s religious beliefs or practices such as shaving, hair length, religious clothing, jewelry, and head or face coverings, the employee can ask for an exception to the policy as a reasonable accommodation. Absent undue hardship, religious discrimination may be found where an employer fails to accommodate the employee’s religious dress or grooming practices.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also prohibits retaliation against persons who complain of discrimination or participate in an EEOC investigation.

Some typical workplace-discrimination claims include comments about praying in the workplace, calling an employee a terrorist or member of al-Qaeda, racial slurs, forbidding women from wearing the traditional head scarf or hijab, and refusing to shave a beard. And there have been cases where an employee was discriminated against because other employees mistakenly thought he was a Muslim.

For more information on workplace-discrimination or on Islam, I encourage readers to visit the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) website. CAIR’s mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.


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