Islam in the Workplace (Part 1): Religious Diversity

Posted on November 21, 2006


Source: Religious Diversity and the Workplace  by Grove Harris (2004)

Note: This is an excerpt with respect to Muslims only from Grove Harris’s report. For the full article, please visit The Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

[…] According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Washington, D.C., there has been a substantial rise in the number of complaints of workplace harassment or discharge due to religion, from 1388 in FY 1992 to 2572 in FY 2003. Much of the increase represents a backlash against Muslims and Sikhs in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 2001. […]

Religious discrimination against Muslims in the workplace has included harassment and discharge. For example, on December 6, 2003 The Washington Post reported on an Arab American waiter in Baltimore who was sent home from work because his name is Mohamad. A Trans State Airline pilot was fired solely because of his religion. Harassment cases are numerous.

For some Muslim women, the wearing of a religious headscarf (hijab) has brought repercussions in the workplace. Legal redress has been sought for a variety of cases concerning the right to this religious attire: by a Pennsylvania policewoman who was barred from wearing hijab on the job, by an applicant who was denied a uniformed airline job, and by an Arizona woman working for a rental car company. It is likely that women who apply for employment wearing the headscarf face discrimination in hiring, much of which may go undocumented.

Accommodation of Muslim prayer times, both in terms of space and breaks from work, has had to be negotiated. Many Muslims individually pray five times per day, so some of these times will fall during the working hours. Prayer involves kneeling and facing towards Mecca; some employers have been able to accommodate the need for specific prayer space. Washing stations, used before prayer, have at times been supplied by employers. On Fridays the mid-day prayer is communal, so many Muslims need time to visit the local mosque. In some cases, this time off has been accommodated by lengthening the workday for these employees. The daily breaks necessary from work for prayer must be negotiated to meet the employee’s protected right to their religion while not placing an undue burden on the employer. At Electrolux, the company agreed to change a break time to allow Muslim employees to participate in prayer at sunset.

Aversion to transporting alcohol has come up as a religious issue; a Muslim truck driver declined to transport beer, since alcohol consumption is forbidden by his religion. He will have to show that accommodating his request would not cause undue hardship to the employer.

For more information on issues involving discrimination against or accommodation of Muslims in the workplace, see additional articles from Religious Diversity News.