The United States Equal Opportunity Commission recently issued guidance documents relating to the proper treatment of Muslim and Middle Eastern employees at work. The EEOC’s concern about this issue stemmed from unfortunate, tragic events involving extremist groups in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California. One guidance document is intended for employees and the other is aimed at employers. This article will discuss the employee guidance document.
Woven throughout the Questions and Answers for Employees document are reminders that workplace discrimination based on protected class status is illegal under both federal and state laws. The Q&A specifically refers to discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, national origin, color, and race.
The document specifically lists four areas for employee consideration:
- Religious accommodation; and
The EEOC’s guidance document reminds employees that they may not be discriminated against because they are, or are perceived to be, Muslim or Middle Eastern. The antidiscrimination laws include “all aspects of employment, including hiring, job assignment, pay, and termination.” Part of the document tells employees that customer preference, by law, cannot justify discrimination.
The Q&A informs employees that they may not be harassed based on their membership in a protected class. It also reminds employees that employers have “strong incentives” to prevent or correct harassment, including that initiated by co-workers, supervisors, or customers.
This aspect of the document is important for two reasons. First, it ensures that employees know that harassment does not have to be perpetrated by supervisors to be illegal. Second, it reminds employees that they may be corrected or disciplined for their own potentially harassing actions. The EEOC “strongly encourages employees to review and become familiar with” employer policies relating to harassment and retaliation.
The EEOC employee guidance document also tells employees about a lesser known benefit of civil rights law, religious accommodation. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations of employee religious beliefs, as long as doing so does not pose an undue hardship.
California law helps to define the meaning of “undue hardship.” For example, California law does not allow an employee to be segregated from workers for the public in order to accommodate her religious belief. California also goes further than federal law, requiring employers to accommodate employee religious preferences and dress and grooming practices. Reasonable accommodations may include changing schedules, praying at work, and permitting religious clothing or grooming practices.
The document advises employees that they may not be retaliated against for complaining about discrimination, for filing a discrimination charge, or for assisting in a discrimination investigation.
Our next article will discuss the EEOC guidance document that was issued for employers. If you are seeking an experienced discrimination lawyer in Los Angeles, please contact Labor Law Office, APC today for more information.
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