It’s no secret: International news often upsets Americans, especially since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But frustration about terrorism and other threats shouldn’t be allowed to spill over in the workplace, especially if another staff member is unfairly singled out for abuse based on nothing more than his national origin or religion.
Remind employees that you don’t tolerate any form of harassment, including that based on xenophobic generalizations about a region or religion.
Recent case: Medhat, who is a Muslim of Egyptian national origin, sued his employer over what he perceived as hostility over his background and religion. He told the court that the trouble began when a co-worker drew a camel in the break room and labeled it with Medhat’s name. Then Medhat was asked whether he had studied chemistry and physics so that he could build bombs. Soon, an Egyptian flag appeared next to the Israeli flag and Medhat was asked whether that upset him.
Medhat was often offered pork and told that he couldn’t take leave for Ramadan. He was also asked if he had multiple wives.
Then began an apparent concerted effort to make offensive comments on Facebook pages. One post read: “the Boston Bombers were not: Right Wingers, Tea Partiers, Republicans, NRA ‘Gun Nuts,’ Militia Men. They were Muslims! All Muslims are not terrorists. But most terrorists are Muslims.”
When he complained, HR told him it couldn’t do anything about Facebook posts on co-workers’ pages.
Medhat sued, alleging national- origin and religious harassment. The court said his case could go forward. (Kamel v. Sanofi Pasteur, No. 3:CV-14-1658, MD PA, 2015)
Final note: Watch this case. If the employer ends up liable over Facebook posts, employers may have to revise their social media policies.