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The recent terrorist attacks have prompted the EEOC to update its position regarding discrimination against employees on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and country of origin. The EEOC’s statement, released late last month, advised employers and labor unions on the matter of workplace retaliation against individuals who are members of, or are perceived to be members of, religions, countries, or ethnic groups which are at risk of reprisal subsequent to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. First, the EEOC stated that “anger at those responsible for the tragic events of September 11 should not be misdirected against innocent individuals because of their religion, ethnicity, or country of origin.” The EEOC observed that employers and labor unions have a special role in guarding against unlawful workplace bias. Second, the EEOC reminded employers and unions that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, color, or sex. At this time, employers and unions should be particularly sensitive to potential discrimination or harassment against individuals who are — or are perceived to be — Muslim, Arab, Afghani, Middle Eastern, or South Asian (Pakistani, Indian, etc). The law’s prohibitions, as documented by the Commission, include harassment or any other employment action based on violations of employees’ or union members’ civil rights as follows: Affiliation — harassing or otherwise discriminating against an individual because he or she is affiliated with a particular religious or ethnic group — for example, harassing an individual because she is Arab or practices Islam, or paying an employee less because she is Middle Eastern; Physical or cultural traits and clothing — harassing or otherwise discriminating against a worker because of physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics, such as accent or dress associated with a particular religion, ethnicity, or country of origin-for example, harassing a woman wearing a hijab (a body covering and/or head-scarf worn by some Muslims), or not hiring a man with a dark complexion and an accent believed to be Arab; Perception — harassing or otherwise discriminating against an employee because of the perception or belief that a person is a member of a particular racial, national origin, or religious group whether or not that perception is correct — for example, failing to hire an Hispanic person because the hiring official believed that he was from Pakistan, or harassing a Sikh man wearing a turban because the harasser thought he was Muslim; and Association — harassing or otherwise discriminating against an individual because of his or her association with a person or organization of a particular religion or ethnicity — for example, harassing an employee whose husband is from Afghanistan, or refusing to promote an employee because he attends a Mosque. EMPLOYERS’ RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING HARASSMENT The EEOC emphasized that employers must provide a workplace that is free of harassment based on national origin, ethnicity, or religion. Otherwise, they may be liable not only for harassment by supervisors, but also by coworkers or by non-employees under their control. Employers should clearly communicate to all employees, either through a written policy or other appropriate mechanism, that harassment such as ethnic slurs or other verbal or physical conduct directed toward any racial, ethnic, or religious group is prohibited and that employees must respect the rights of their coworkers, according to Title VII. The Commission added that employers also should have effective and clearly communicated policies and procedures for addressing complaints of harassment and should train managers on how to identify and respond effectively to harassment even in the absence of a complaint. RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION Title VII requires an employer to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer. Some reasonable religious accommodations that employers may be required to provide workers include leave for religious observances, time and/or place to pray, and ability to wear religious attire, advised the EEOC. � 2001, CCH INCORPORATED. All Rights Reserved.

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