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Religious discrimination is common in workplaces making human resource managers to have difficulties in satisfying the diverse religious needs and professional demands of the work. Diverse religions exist in the world with different beliefs regarding worship, dressing, and way of life hence complicating the work of human resources managers in enforcing professional ethics.
Realizing that religious discrimination in workplaces is a significant challenge in employment sector, many countries are formulating policies and laws that provide framework to guide human resources in eradicating religious discrimination.
For instance, Australia has adopted laws that prohibit religious discrimination; “the Equal Treatment Act came into effect July 2004 and prohibits direct or indirect discrimination against employees on the grounds of gender, age, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, religious belief, world view or sexual orientation”(Hart & Frederiksen 19).
The Equal Treatment Act aims at eradicating religious discrimination as one of the forms of discrimination experienced in workplaces. Although there are diverse religions in the world, this essay examines Islamic religious discrimination and anti-discriminative legislations in the workplace.
Islamic Religious Discrimination
Muslims have been experiencing discrimination in their workplaces due to their religious affiliation and way of life. In most countries like the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Africa, and South America, Muslims form minority of workers and thus experience discrimination.
In Britain, Muslims are the religious minority and their population is about 1.6 million. Since their way of life in terms of religious beliefs and practices differ from the major religions, Muslims have experienced both direct and indirect discrimination, thus affecting their working capacity in the workplaces.
Despite the fact that British Muslims contribute significantly to the growth of economy, “there is lack of understanding and accommodation, resulting in unfair discrimination in employment, is an unfortunate reality for many Muslims in Britain…” (Sacranie 6).
The Britain society has not recognized the need to have equal treatment of religions in the workplaces even though legislations are in place. Britain has adopted equality law that protects individuals against unfair discrimination in employment but what remains is enforcement of the laws in order to protect Muslims.
Over centuries, Islamic religion has been growing gradually and penetrating into different parts of the world. Its penetration into countries dominated by other religions made them to become minority religion among other religions.
Moreover, given that the Islamic religion has a unique way of life due to beliefs that require them to wear specifics clothes, worship at certain times, and observe given days as a holiday, Muslims clash with not only significant religions but also their professions. Human resources managers have difficulties in balancing religious demands and professional requirements in the workplaces in order to meet goals and objective of their respective companies.
Every religion has different dressing code, holidays, and beliefs that at times clash with the professional ethics and job description. In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has admitted that there is significant evidence in the lawsuits that proves existence of Muslims discrimination in the workplaces.
Green reports that “Although Muslims make up less than 2 percent of the United States population, they accounted for about one-quarter of the 3,386 religious discrimination claims filed with the EEOC last year” (4). This means that among other religious believers such as Jews, Hindus, Protestants, Catholics and Seventh Day Adventists, Muslims are the most discriminated in the United States.
Although discrimination against Muslims existed prior to the infamous terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, the incident caused tremendous increase in animosity between Americans and Muslims. Employers and workers alike labeled Muslims as potential terrorists hence unfit for any form of employment. Human resources managers only recruited non-Muslims for they had fears that Muslims are terrorists and thus, they could not risk employing them.
Across the world, other religions have labeled Muslims as terrorists causing worldwide discrimination of Muslims, particularly in Europe and America. The aftermath of September 11, 2001, attacks had a marked effect on the discrimination of Muslims across the world due to anti-terrorism crusade by America.
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The anti-terrorism crusade consequently heightened discrimination of Muslims in the United States and European countries and as Tanner points “The rising number of complaints by Muslims, which exceeds even the amount filed in the year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, comes as tensions rise between Muslim Americans and those of other faiths” (12).
Increasing complaints of Muslim discrimination in the United States is due to the globalization of anti-terrorism crusade. The European countries have followed the American ideology of anti-terrorism that has provided a scapegoat in the discrimination of Muslims.
On the world scale, discrimination of Muslims in the workplaces is rising due to the anti-terrorism crusade that propagate damaging stereotypes that Muslims and their religion are source of terror in the modern society. Polls show that “many Americans feel a growing wariness toward Muslims after the 9/11 attacks and after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Elaasar 77).
Tension between Muslims and other religions is building up in the modern world because the anti-terrorism crusade is providing an environment where discrimination against Muslims thrives. Stereotypes against Muslims have found their way into the workplaces despite availability of legislations that prohibit discrimination.
Therefore, in the view of the rampant discrimination of Muslims in their respective workplaces, various countries are formulating legislations and enforcing them in favor of Muslims who have endured undue discrimination. In the workplaces, human resources managers have a great role to play in ensuring enforcement of anti-discriminative legislations. In the light of evidence that Muslims are discriminated against in workplaces, what are some of the measures put in place to counter such ‘injustice’?
Development of Anti-discriminative Laws
In the United States of America, anti-discriminative laws evolved due to increasing cases of discrimination filed in courts. Cases of discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and ethnicity have been increasing gradually, thus prompting the Congress to formulate legislations to zero-rate discrimination in the society.
During early 20th century, cases of discrimination in employment became rampant compelling the Congress to establish Civil Rights Act in 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act stipulates that “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to terms and conditions of employment…, because of race, religion …” (Gandara 174).
Thus, Civil Rights Act did set the stage for the formulation of anti-discriminative legislations in the United States. As early as 1964, the United States had already formulated anti-discriminative legislation to prevent religious discrimination and that move saw the creation of the EEOC.
At infancy, the EEOC lacked enough powers to enforce legislations as stipulated in the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prompted the Congress to enhance EEOC powers through an Act.
In 1972, the Congress passed the EEOC Act that offered more executive powers to EEOC. Abbas asserts that the ability of EEOC involved “suing federal court if it is unable to secure an acceptable conciliation agreement from an employer, on the basis of either a private charge of discrimination or on a charge filed by the EEOC commissioner” (175).
The Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964 did undergo subsequent amendment to clarify the meaning of religion in the context of discrimination. Religion involves beliefs, observance, or practices that form part of spiritual way of life that an individual holds. Hence, legislations did prohibit employers from discriminative employment of workers based on their religions as early as the 1960s up to now.
Due to inefficiencies regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Congress amended the Act in 1991 to clarify enforcement of Title VII and included the need for the employers to be responsible for their discriminative actions by compensating the victims of discrimination.
According to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, “the new amendments made compensatory and punitive damages available for intentional violations of Title VII, subject to certain limitations, including a recoverable compensatory damage cap determined by the size of the employer” (Gandara 184).
The anti-discriminative legislations evolved and became more stringent in ensuring that human resources managers do not hire and fire employees discriminatively based on their religious backgrounds or beliefs.
The September 11, 2001 attacks caused marked discrimination of Muslims not only in the United States but also in European countries and other friendly countries across. Majority of Americans held that Muslims and their religion were responsible for the terror attacks against Americans and thus they tended to retaliate by discriminating Muslims in employment.
With proper legislations and powers, the EEOC noted increased discrimination of Muslims in the employment following September 11, 2001 attacks and warned employers about discrimination that would possibly result into prosecution or fine due to violation of the anti-discriminative laws.
The employers also had fears concerning the nature of their employees because “many employers continue to question whether any of their agents take part in terrorist activities, thereby possibly implicating the company … companies worry that their transactions may be misconstrued as providing direct or indirect support of terrorism” (Alidadi 174).
In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Congress passed the PATRIOT Act that compelled all employers to assess their employees to determine whether they are terrorists or not. Due to the government pressure, companies did not want to incur unnecessary penalties from the government for allegations of harboring terrorists.
Since enforcement of anti-discriminative laws, many employers have violated the laws causing them to pay unnecessary huge penalties. The aftermath of the September attacks led to rapid increase in the cases of religious discriminations. Monetary compensation due to religious discrimination obtained in 2001 was 14.1 million dollars compared to annual average of 4 million dollars. The drastic increase in financial compensation reflects the extent of discrimination that Muslims experienced in the year 2001.
In 2003, the court ordered Herrick Corporation to pay 1.1 million dollars after finding it guilty of violating the anti-discriminative legislations by abetting workplace discrimination of Muslims. Garnett and Clay explain that “the four Pakistani-born victims claimed they were abused by co-workers at a California steel plant who ridiculed their turbans and daily Muslim prayers and called them derogatory names” (6).
Cases of religious discrimination have cost companies billions of dollars since the enforcement of the Civil Right Act of 1991 under the EEOC. Thus, human resources managers need to be aware of the stricter penalties when found guilty violating anti-discriminative legislations in their management of human resources.
Social and Psychological Aspect of Discrimination
Discrimination against Muslims in the workplaces has psychological and social effects on the workers and employers. The process of eradicating Islam discrimination in the workplaces is a complex issue because the issue buttresses into psychological and social aspects of humanity, which is evident in countries like the United States and European countries where legislations exist, but there is laxity in the implementation and enforcement of the same.
Craig fears that, “After 9/11, many people had a hard time separating the extremist actions of terrorists and Islam in their minds…many worried that innocent Muslims in western countries would become targets of discrimination” (5). Stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists is due to social and psychological constructs of the society that tend to associate terrorism with Islamic religion and terrorists with Muslims. Such stereotypical constructs are complicated to eliminate in the minds of people and in the social set up.
Discrimination of Muslims in the workplace is a social issue because, despite the fact that the September 11, 2001 attacks happened in the United States, discrimination also increased in other countries. The drastic increase in discrimination of Muslims after the attacks in various parts of the world implies that the social perception of Muslims changed in the world as a whole. Study to determine the extent of Muslim discrimination in Europe revealed that the issue also has ethnical dimensions.
The study surveyed two ethnic groups, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis “who reported the greatest increase in discrimination after the 9/11 attacks and the researchers note that major world events like 9/11 can increase discrimination not just in the country in which they occur but also in other countries” (Craig 8). Thus, discrimination of Muslims is in the workplaces is a social issue in the world that calls for attention of employers and human resources managers for effective reversal of the trends in the world.
To ascertain the extent of discrimination against the Muslims, researchers in Sweden used Milgram’s experiment of lost-letter to determine the behavioral prejudice against Muslims. The study aimed at establishing whether Swedish people had any preferences and prejudices in posting lost letters of other religions relative to Muslims. Surprisingly, Swedish people showed preference in posting lost notes of other people and discriminated against names that sounded like Muslims.
Craig reports that, “when people found a lost, unsent letter addressed to a ‘Muslim sounding’ name, they were less likely to post the letter than if the name was Swedish sounding, exceptionally they could not send the letter if it contained any money” (10). The experiment shows the extent to which even a society can interpret identity of persons merely on their names.
The society has become sensitive to religious discrimination in that, people can even decipher religious affiliations based on names and this insight implies that human resources managers can easily discriminate Muslims during employment by just viewing the list of the names without necessary asking about their religious orientation.
In the recent past, a project proposal to include a mosque in the community center of the New York City in the United States generated a lot of controversy due to the social significance attached to mosque.
Those who supported the decision argued that it was a significant step towards uniting Muslims and Americans but those who opposed it said that mosque would remind them of the horrendous terror attack of September 11, 2001. Terror attacks on Americans have led to significant change in social and psychological perception of Muslims. All over the world, Muslims earned a negative fame as terrorists and now many people perceive Islamic religion as ‘evil’ in the society.
The proponents of the aforementioned mosque project realized that discrimination against Muslims is an issue that requires social intervention. Creation of a mosque in a community center would help in enhancing contact and interaction between Muslims and Americans, causing negative stereotypes and prejudices against Muslims to diffuse gradually.
Meta-analysis has proved that, “contact can increase knowledge about the out-group, reduce anxiety about contact, and increase empathy and perspective-taking towards the out-group” (Abbas 85). Therefore, social events that enhance interaction of Muslims and believers of other religions are significant in eliminating discrimination and prejudices.
United States Legal Framework
In the view of anti-discriminative legislations as stipulated in the Civil Rights Acts of 1991, an amendment to the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, the EEOC demands that all employers should adhere to the legislations by implementing anti-discriminative policies in their workplaces.
Human resources managers have a great responsibility of ensuring that they comply with the Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts or risk prosecution by the EEOC. Due to rampant discrimination and harassment of Muslims in the workplaces following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the EEOC launched national campaign to educate and warn employees and employers regarding the issue.
Gandara posits, “Employers should heed this campaign as a warning that the EEOC will not tolerate discrimination in the workplace and will hold them liable for their employees’ discriminatory practices against others” (197). Hence, human resources should be aware of the strict penalties that they will incur if found breaching anti-discriminative legislations as stipulated in the Title VII of Civil Rights Act.
The EEOC demands all employers to have anti-discriminative policy that aids in the implementation of anti-discriminative legislations in the workplaces.
The anti-discriminative policy should provide discrimination complaint process that is effective, assurance of anti-discrimination to the workers, protection of workers’ rights in the event of discrimination, assurance of corrective action when discrimination occurs and clear demonstration to zero-rate discrimination in the workplaces among other necessary requirements in the anti-discriminative legislations.
“Training and education should be provided to all employees regarding the policy and exactly what constitutes discrimination, with training specifically for managers and employees acting in any supervisory capacity on termination procedures, conflict resolution, and observation skills” (Gandara 198).
Human resources managers should ensure that anti-discriminative policies are in place so that they can implement anti-discriminative legislations and avoid unnecessary penalties due to discriminative complaints filed by the workers. Resources managers should be wary of religious discrimination because the sensitivity of the issue in the workplace requires collective address by the employer and employees as a way of creating a pleasant working environment.
Moreover, human resources managers need to note that freedom of religion is a fundamental right of an individual enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States constitution. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends freedom of religion into workplaces and protects individuals from undue discrimination in the employment.
The workers have the inalienable right to belong and associate with certain religious group without eliciting any discriminative stances from the employer. The Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminative employment, harassment of employees, victimization, and imposing of discriminative terms and conditions of employment based on religious affiliation.
“It is unlawful to treat someone detrimentally because they belong to certain religion, they have made or intend to make a complaint about discrimination or harassment, or have assisted or intend to assist another in such a complaint” (Sacranie 9). Such forms of discrimination are against anti-discriminative legislations and thus, any human resources manager found violating the same would attract the appropriate penalties.
Human Resources Management Practices
Although employees have inalienable right of religious freedom and protection against discrimination, the law also gives employers the freedom to have reasonable accommodation of diverse religious beliefs. Employers have prerogative in determining the extent to which they can accommodate diverse religious beliefs in the workplaces without portraying indirect discrimination.
The reasonable accommodation is in line with the anti-discriminative legislations of the United States and some other countries. The prime objective of anti-discriminative legislations is to protect employees from undue discrimination and give freedom to the employer to impose professional ethics.
Employers should reasonably accommodate religious beliefs to the extent that they contradict with professional ethics. According to Hart and Frederiksen, “Title VII requires that the employer provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee who’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship” (206).
Therefore, human resources managers need to be careful while considering the extent of reasonable accommodation because it may invoke the misconception of indirect discrimination. For example, employers can decline Muslim’s women in workshops due to the nature of their dressing, for such working environment requires helmets and trousers.
Human resources managers should make reasonable basic accommodation of the employees’ beliefs in terms of time off, annual leave and dressing code with regard to respective religious beliefs. Orhun argues that, “the duty to provide reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs and practices is frequently involved in requests for time off work for prayer, days off for observation of Sabbath, or for leave to participate in religious holiday, festival, or pilgrimage” (4).
Since Muslims have regular daily prayers, religious holidays and pilgrimages, human resources managers need to adjust schedules to provide for religious observance to avoid discriminating against Muslims. The plans need adjustment in such a manner to ensure that employees work optimally and at the same time enjoy freedom to attend to religious practices. For example, human resources managers should schedule annual leave for employees to coincide with their respective religious festivals or pilgrimages.
Dressing code is an integral part of professional ethics and religious beliefs as well. The human resources managers have a daunting responsibility in accommodating diverse dressing code from different religions and enforcing professional dressing code.
Employers may introduce a dressing code that favors other religions while discriminating against others. For example, the employer may intentionally introduce new dressing code with the objective of discriminating against Muslims by prohibiting headscarves and demanding females to wear short skirts.
The introduction of new dressing has both professional aspect and discriminative aspect when critically analyzed. Garnett and Clay argue that, “the employer cannot prevent an employee from dressing in accordance with his or her beliefs unless the employer has very strong objective business reasons to require uniform or specific clothing” (5). The employer should prove beyond a reasonable doubt that certain dressing code is necessary or unnecessary for working environment.
Since workplace is a social environment where interaction of workers is critical in determining performance of the company, human resources managers should see to it that working environment is friendly.
Discrimination in the workplaces creates hostile environment where workers cannot perform their duties optimally, hence the company incurs great losses. Discriminatory practices against Muslims such as selective employment, harassment, victimization, dressing code, and haphazard dismissal does not only violate anti-discriminative legislations but also create hostility in the workplaces.
Orhun asserts that, “discrimination and intolerance against Muslims is not only a matter of ill-treatment against a specific religious group but also deeply affects international relations as well as the internal stability of Western societies” (7). Hence, for human resources managers to create a friendly working environment that is free from discrimination, they must have anti-discriminative policies in their companies and advocate compliance by everybody, be it workers or managers.
Religious discrimination in the workplace does not only violate fundamental right of religious freedom but also right to meaningful employment. Since Muslims form a minority religion with unique beliefs and way of life, they experience discrimination in the workplace from the mainstream religious groups.
Due to rampant discrimination of Muslims following terrorism and anti-terrorism actions, human resources managers are experiencing significant challenges in accommodating different religious beliefs and practices. To avoid religious discrimination, human resources managers have a daunting responsibility of ensuring that they reasonably accommodate religious beliefs and practices, without compromising professional ethics that are critical in achieving organizational goals.
Therefore, human resources managers play a significant role in eradication of religious discrimination in the workplaces by formulating anti-discriminative policies and complying with anti-discriminative legislations as stipulated in various legislations across the world.
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Alidadi, Katayoun. “Religion and the Workplace.” Religare Working Paper, 2010. 1-14.
Craig, John. Discrimination of Muslims: Social and Psychological Aspects. Social Psychology Eye, 2009. 1-18.
Elaasar, Aladdin. Silent Victims: the Plight of Arab & Muslims Americans in Post 9/11 America. New York: AurthorHouse, 2004.
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