Each day this week I am blogging about one of the 5 latest workplace trends impacting harassment claims. We've covered retaliation and Web 2.0. Next up? Religious harassment.
Trend #3: Religious Harassment
According to the EEOC, religious discrimination charges rose 10.7% from 2009 to 2010. The EEOC has filed several prominent lawsuits on behalf of Muslim workers for such violations as interrupted prayer breaks, discrimination based on attire, and slander. Just a few weeks ago it was reported that Mohamed Kotbi, a waiter at the Waldorf-Astoria, sued the iconic hotel after he was asked to wear a badge showing his name as Edgar. When Kotbi complained, his manager's reply was, "It's better to be Edgar than Mohamed today."
The media frenzy around the Muslim religion and the war on terror is continuing to ratchet up (see my post on the workplace impact of Bin Laden's death) and the discussions your employees have about these issues, and the opinions they hold, do not get neatly compartmentalized away from your working environment. These extremely risky discussions centering on national origin, ethnicity and religion often lead to severe workplace tensions, productivity problems, and potential claims of harassment.
Managing the Risk of Religious Harassment
Many employees don't know where the boundaries of "free speech" lie when it comes to acceptable behavior in the workplace and feel deeply protective of their "right" to express opinions and engage in conduct that can squarely violate workplace policies - and potentially the law. Effective policies and training are essential to ensuring employees understand the rules and treat one another with dignity and respect.
It's also essential that discussion of religious expression is incorporated into harassment training for both managers and employees - expression that is protected, and expression that is inappropriate. Training should also address the pitfalls of stereotyping based on religion - including dress and grooming practices. Employees should also be aware that reasonable efforts to accommodate religious practices will be made.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on my next harassment training trend: Contingent Workers