Late last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) approved an enforcement plan to address various “emerging issues,” including the discrimination against Muslims in the workplace. Why did the EEOC identify discrimination against Muslims as an emerging issue? Since 9/11, Muslims have accounted for about 20% of the EEOC’s religion discrimination complaints, and many fear that this percentage will continue to grow now that President Trump is in office.
President Trump wasted little time signing an executive order that banned citizens from seven predominately Muslim countries, including Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Although President Trump claimed the travel ban was necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the country, some interpreted it as a discriminatory Muslim ban. Many legal professionals fear that President Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric will spark a new wave of discrimination against Muslims in the workplace.
What is religious discrimination?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their religious beliefs. Employers cannot choose to hire, fire, promote, demote, or lay off an individual because he or an immediate family member is a practicing Muslim. Employers are also required to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs unless doing so would severely disrupt business. For example, many Muslim workers ask their employers for small prayer breaks throughout the day. Finally, this federal law also prohibits the harassment of an employee based on his religious beliefs. The legal definition of harassment encompasses a variety of behaviors, including offensive jokes, gestures, remarks, or threats against a person because of his or her religion.
If you feel that you have been targeted at work because you are a Muslim, and more specifically because of President Trump’s Muslim ban, it’s important to know how you can seek justice and protect your rights.
Document the evidence
Write down as much information as you can about the discrimination you have experienced because of your religion. If someone made discriminatory comments to you, write down what was said, who said it, and when it was said. If offensive emails were sent to you, print them out so you can keep a record of them. It’s important to document as much evidence as possible so you have a strong case against those who are discriminating against you.
Alert your employer
Muslims who have been discriminated against in the workplace should immediately alert their employers. Check your employee manual to see who handles discrimination complaints. Most employers ask that you report these issues to Human Resources, but it may be wise to let your supervisor know what’s going on as well.
Present all of the evidence you have collected related to the discrimination, and let the HR representative know you would like to file a formal complaint. Ask for a copy of the formal complaint so you can add this to the rest of the documentation you have gathered.
Employers have a legal obligation to investigate allegations of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. After you have filed a formal complaint, your employer should begin to investigate your allegations in a timely manner. Employers must make an effort to put an end to the discrimination, but if they don’t, don’t let this deter you from seeking justice.
Contact the EEOC
If your employer fails to take action to stop the discrimination, it’s up to you to escalate the issue further by contacting the EEOC. Visit one of the EEOC’s offices or field offices near you to begin the process of filing a complaint against your employer. You can also send in your information via the mail. Be sure to include your name, address, phone number, employer information, and a description of the events that took place. You have 180 days after the discriminatory incident to file a claim with the EEOC, so make sure you move quickly to ensure you meet this deadline.
The EEOC will notify your employer of the complaint within 10 days and give them a chance to respond to your allegations. Once the EEOC has the information they need, an official investigation into your claim will begin. In many cases, the EEOC will send representatives to your employer to interview witnesses and review official documentation related to the claim. This investigation can take months to complete—in fact, the average length of an investigation in 2015 was 10 months. If you choose to settle the claim through mediation with your employer, the case will usually wrap up within about three months.
After the investigation, the EEOC will let both parties know the result. If the EEOC cannot find evidence that your employer illegally discriminated against you, the agency will issue a notice of right-to-sue. This is a legal document that permits you to file a lawsuit against your employer without the help of the EEOC. If the EEOC does believe your employer discriminated against you, representatives from the agency will attempt to reach a settlement with your employer on your behalf. However, some employers are not willing to settle, even when they are dealing with the EEOC. If no settlement can be reached, the case will be passed along to the EEOC’s legal department. Either the legal department will file a lawsuit on your behalf or they will issue you a notice of right-to-sue so you can do it on your own.
Seek legal representation
If you have been given the notice of right-to-sue, you are free to seek legal representation and take legal action against your employer. Be sure to find an attorney who specializes in employment law and has experience representing clients in religion discrimination cases. An attorney will be able to walk you through every step of the process and help you fight for the justice you deserve.