The past ten years have been difficult for actively religious workers across America. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has received a dramatic increase - nearly 90 percent more - in complaints involving alleged religious discrimination in the workplace. The rate of religious discrimination claims has grown at around four times the rate as other claims.
Not surprisingly, complaints from Muslims have almost tripled in the years since the events of September 11, 2001, but Muslim workers are only reporting about 25 percent of all religion-oriented workplace discrimination claims.
Employment law experts and leaders of several major religions have proffered several factors that could be resulting in the increase in claims, including:
- Fear of Islamic extremists like those responsible for the 9/11 attacks
- Lack of knowledge about mainstream Muslim customs
- Increased knowledge of legal avenues/complaint procedures
- Confidential access to human resources professionals
- Publicity granted to religious officials active in politics or public policy decisions
- General intolerance of differences between workers, similar to that seen prior to the civil rights movement
- Economic strains forcing layoffs that might have been motivated by religious intolerance
The EEOC actively investigates claims coming from employees who feel they have been discriminated against, and has been very open about the increased complaints regarding religious discrimination. Prejudice against Muslims seems to be receiving a disproportionate amount of publicity in the past several years (and more recently, as reports arose that bombs or incendiary devices had been placed on commercial freight airplanes departing from Yemen and destined for either America or Britain), but, as mentioned, those complaints make up less than one-fourth of the total complaints.
Recently disclosed complaints and employment law discrimination claims have come from practicing members of a number of different religions, including Islam, Sikh, Christianity, the Rastafari movement, and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Employers have a duty under federal law to not make hiring or firing decisions based upon religion, as well as harassing or otherwise discriminating against a worker for the same reason. Employers also have a duty to fulfill requests to accommodate religious practices so long as they do not pose an undue burden for the company.
If you feel that you have been unfairly discriminated against because of your religion (or for other reasons like your gender, age, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation), you should contact an experienced employment law attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.