A recent report from the Anti-Defamation League, published in March of 2023, found that antisemitic incidents increased 36% in 2022. Not only is this a harrowing statistic, it also serves as disappointing confirmation that antisemitism continues on the rise in the United States. Employers have a unique and valuable opportunity to stand in alignment with their employees, foster a safe environment, and condemn antisemitism wherever they see it.
The EEOC has provided useful guidance to Jewish employees for ensuring their rights in the workplace are met. These guidelines can aid employers as well.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a federal law, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious observances, so long as it does not cause the employer an undue hardship. This undue hardship standard, which has been discussed in a previous blog, may soon be reinterpreted by the Supreme Court to provide even greater protection for employees. In the meantime, however, the EEOC detailed several examples of accommodations unlikely to cause undue hardship to employers, including (1) accommodating religious observances and/or permitting leave time for Jewish employees, (2) creating exceptions to workplace dress codes to allow the wearing of yarmulkes (skull caps), tzitzits (prayer shawl fringes), or other religious attire, and (3) allowing employees to follow other ritual hair and shaving practices.
Title VII also prohibits harassment, disparate treatment, retaliation, and segregation by employers against employees on the basis of religion. Aside from more obvious forms of verbal harassment by way of derogatory or rude remarks, the EEOC notes that harassment can include attempts to coerce employees to forego their religious observances or alter their practices as a condition of employment. While harassment under federal law becomes unlawful only when it is frequent or so severe that the work environment has become a hostile one, employers can – and should – set an example to their teams that prejudicial treatment won’t be tolerated. Thus, it’s vitally important to ensure employees don’t feel pressure or experience criticism because they choose to observe their faith. It’s equally critical to permit employees to comfortably request necessary religious accommodations.
More overt acts, such as treating employees unfavorably for requesting accommodations, assigning them less desirable tasks, relegating them to different areas of a workplace, or simply hiring, firing, or paying less to an employee of a certain faith all are examples of discriminatory treatment that shouldn’t be permitted.
Antisemitism must never be allowed to take root in the workplace. If you have any questions about best-practice strategies to ensure compliance with Title VII, religious accommodations, and your responsibilities as an employer, we can help. Please reach out to the attorneys at The Coppola Firm by email (email@example.com), phone (716.839.9700), or stop by our conveniently-located office on Maple Road in Buffalo, New York.