Discriminatory Practices Against Muslims in the American Workplaces

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Discriminatory Practices against Muslims in the American Workplace Bahaudin G. Mujtaba Nova Southeastern University Frank J. Cavico Nova Southeastern University

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States by radical extremists have brought about more discrimination and harassment in the workplace toward Muslim employees. This article examines civil rights law in the United States as applied to the religious discrimination and harassment of Muslim employees. The article closely examines the legal prohibitions against religious discrimination and religious harassment against employees in the context of Muslim employees. The extraterritorial effects of U.S. anti-discrimination laws are also explored for American firms and expatriates operating abroad. The employer’s duty to accommodate the religious needs and practices of its employees is analyzed as is the undue hardship limitation on the accommodation duty. The authors provide specific suggestions on how to accommodate reasonably the religious needs, observances, and practices of Muslim employees. Recommendations are offered for how to avoid legal liability pursuant to anti-discrimination and harassment laws. INTRODUCTION The workplace is an arena where the private life of an employee, encompassing his or her religious beliefs, and his or her work life can collide, thereby raising important as well as contentious issues of the role of religion in the U.S. workplace. The presence of religiously observant Muslim employees in the workplace, as well as employees of other religious beliefs, of course, can create conflicts between workplace policies and rules and religious observances and practices. These conflicts can become acute when the religious beliefs are held by, and the religious practices observed by, employees who are members of minority or nontraditional religions (Cavico and Mujtaba, 2011a). Tension can also arise among employees when a particular employee’s religious practices are perceived to impinge on another employee’s work life. Examples of such conflicts and tensions are dress and grooming requirements, religious observances, prayer breaks, ritual washings, religious calendars and quotations, and prohibitions with certain medical examinations, testing, and procedures. Ruan (2008) points out that “as American workplaces become more diverse, it is inevitable that a growing number of workers will desire to express themselves in religious ways in the workplace” (p. 22). Zaheer (2007) adds that the Islamic religion will present “unique problems” for employers in seeking to fairly allow religious expression in the workplace due to the “practice intensive nature” of the Islamic religion (p. 497). Solieman (2009) points to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) concerning the state of Muslim-American civil liberties in the United States, and which includes information on Muslim-Americans in the U.S.

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Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 9(1) 2012

workforce. In its 2008 report, the Council reported that discrimination in the workplace increased by 18% from the previous year; and furthermore that in 2003 only 196 cases of employment discrimination were related to the Council, but by 2007 the number increased to 452 (Solieman, 2009, p. 1072). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the most important civil rights law in the United States. This statute prohibits discrimination by employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. (Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000-e-2(a)(1)). Regarding employment, found in Title VII of the statute, the scope of the statute is very broad, encompassing hiring, apprenticeships, promotion, training, transfer, compensation, and discharge, as well as any other “terms or conditions” and “privileges” of employment. The act applies to both the private and public sectors, including state and local...
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