Citing changing demographics and a steady increase in complaints from people of faith, a federal agency recently released an updated compliance manual on religious discrimination in the workplace.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued the guidance after consulting with religious groups, employers and labor organizations. The number of religious-discrimination charges reported to the agency has more than doubled over the past 15 years.
"The goal here is to promote voluntary compliance, to get everyone on the same page, to let them know what the law is,” said David Grinberg, a spokesman for the agency. "We want to stop discrimination before it starts.”
The commission said that religious discrimination charge filings nationwide doubled from 1,388 in fiscal year 1992 to a record 2,880 in fiscal 2007.
The new manual released July 22 provides safeguards for workers who request time off for religious observances, and protects workers whose faith requires that they wear specific religious garments, such as a hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women.
Just this week, leaders with the Council on American Islamic Relations Oklahoma chapter said they filed a religious discrimination complaint against a Tulsa retail store that allegedly refused to hire a Muslim teen who wore a hijab or headscarf.
Muslims have faced the sharpest increase in workplace discrimination of any major religion in recent years. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of discrimination charges filed by Muslims more than doubled, from 398 to 907. That figure peaked at 1,155 in 2002, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Sheryl Siddiqui, community outreach spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Tulsa, said she was not surprised to learn of the nationwide increase in workplace discrimination against Muslims.
"There is no question that there's a definite increase in the hatemongering (against Muslims), the telling of the lies and the telling of stereotypes” that create a fertile breeding ground for discrimination, she said.
Saad Mohammad, director of Islamic information for the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, credited the agency for its attempt to raise awareness about the issue, "but I still believe there's going to be discrimination in the workplace.”
Siddiqui and Mohammad said much of the religious discrimination against Muslims "flies under the radar,” meaning some Muslims may not be sure that particular actions were meant to be discriminatory, or discrimination may be difficult to prove. (MORE)