Many people seem to accept religious harassment and discrimination as an inevitable part of life in the workplace. This is unfortunate because many religious devotees often reluctantly give up religious practices and customs just to fit in at their company, even allowing their employer and co-workers to get away with committing or allowing blatant acts of religious discrimination.
In this environment of heightened concerns and noticeable tension, it is inevitable that some employees will make comments or ask questions that have the potential to be offensive. At the same time, these types of conversations will also make certain employees more afraid of potential harassment — or even violence.
Let’s consider the following example. In recent weeks, James has been regularly sought out by a coworker who knows he is a devout Muslim. James’ coworker, Sam, has displayed a strong curiosity regarding not only the beliefs of Islam, but about ISIS and terrorism in general. The tone of Sam’s questions is polite, but James is becoming more uncomfortable with every passing conversation.
James hasn’t expressed it yet, but he is not comfortable discussing religion with anyone at work. James has read various reports about violent attacks on Muslims throughout the country, and he is afraid of saying anything to Sam which could spark a violent outburst. Understandably, James doesn’t want to go anywhere near the subject.
What can James do? The situation with his co-worker has not evolved to illegal harassment, but even so, James has options. If James has a good working relationship with Sam, the best course of action is asking Sam to stop. But what if James does not feel comfortable, or safe, discussing the issue with Sam? In that case, James will need to notify his employer.
James’ employer may choose to speak with Sam individually. Or if there already is a climate of tension throughout the workplace, the employer would be best served in addressing the issue with everyone and reminding every employee about workplace policies regarding discrimination, as well as offering any relevant training on religious harassment and discrimination.
Sometimes, bringing up the issue to your employer won’t make a difference. It’s in the best interests of every employer to participate in preventing all forms of harassment in the workplace. However, there are instances when an employer may even condone or participate in the problematic behavior.
Let’s take a look at Miriam, a devout Catholic of Lebanese descent. Miriam has been successfully working as a sales representative for a popular vitamin supplement company in the Southern California area. Ever since the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Miriam’s coworker, Rita, has been calling her names, including “ISIS” and “local terrorist.”
When the comments first started, Miriam chose to ignore her co-worker and focus on meeting her sales goals. Unfortunately, the offensive comments didn’t stop. And Miriam had no choice but to ask Rita to stop making these comments because they were negatively affecting her work experience. Not only did Rita continue with the comments, but she actually became more aggressive than before. As a consequence, Miriam absolutely dreads going to work and seeing Rita every day.
Is this illegal harassment? Is there something Miriam can do? The use of religious and ethnic epithets in an environment of ongoing workplace hostility may indeed constitute as unlawful harassment.
If you have suffered a situation such as Rita’s, it’s important to check your employer’s procedure for filing a discrimination complaint and follow their steps. Once you have filed a formal complaint, your employer is legally obligated to investigate your claim and must take any necessary steps to correct the harassment. If this doesn’t stop the inappropriate behavior, you may have grounds for taking legal action.
If you have made up your mind to take action, it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The religious discrimination lawyers at West Coast Employment Lawyers have extensive experience handling religious discrimination cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.
We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a religious discrimination attorney in California, contact our office at 1-800-247-9235.
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