“Know Your Rights:” Bullying at the Workplace

By Communications Intern, Sarah Goomar

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“Know Your Rights:” When you experience bullying at the workplace

On Tuesday, Orlando UPS employee Ashraf Sarandah filed a federal complaint against the delivery company alleging that his Arab background and Muslim faith incited an environment that tolerated workplace bullying.

Sarandah, a Palestinian-American and practicing Muslim cites several discriminatory incidents. UPS claimed it values religious diversity throughout the company and denied the existence of a “hostile work environment.” For example, Sarandah notes an Instant Message conversation where his supervisor called him a “monkey” on the basis of his race, and another incident during which he was spied on in a restroom at work.

Sarandah sought help from the CAIR-Tampa chapter and filed a Hostile Work Environment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Susann Bashir, a woman who converted to Islam in 2005 and chose to wear hijab, only to have it snatched off her head by her employer at AT&T. Bashir was awarded $5 million in punitive damages by a Kansas City jury. Workplace discrimination and bullying is not uncommon in the American Muslim community.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines bullying as:

“Bullying—an ongoing pattern of physical or psychological aggression that is threatening, coercive, relentless, and leaves the victim feeling powerless.”

Employers in the United States have begun to show a more keen interest in the phenomenon known as workplace bullying because of the negative effects it has not only on those being bullied, but on fellow employees in the workplace, as well. A Zogby Survey conducted in 2007 shows that 37% of people – or 54 million workers – experience bullying at the workplace. Given the current state of the economy, with over three available candidates for every job position, many people are hesitant to leave work even if they find themselves working in an openly hostile, negative, and emotionally-draining environment.

But, many people are bullied on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity, citizenship. Accents, beards, hijabs, and other physical indications have been the basis of hurtful remarks and hostile interactions with supervisors and colleagues. Many choose not to take any action for fear that their employment status will be compromised. Though these apprehensions are understandable, it is important to know your rights so that your career, livelihood, and emotional health will not be compromised.

The Workplace Bullying Institute claims that “The primary reason bullying occurs so frequently in workplaces is that bullying is not yet illegal.” Dr. Gary Namie, the National Director of The Healthy Workplace Campaign, began to introduce anti-bullying laws state-by-state for the workplace in 2001. The Healthy Workplace Bill has been introduced in 21 states and in 2010, the Illinois senate successfully passed the HWB. The Healthy Workplace Campaign eagerly awaits the passage of HWB by floor vote in Illinois, with hopes that its enactment will create a snowball effect, allowing its replication in other states.

According to these organizations, workplace bullying can fall under the umbrella of:
• verbal (ridiculing or maligning a person)
• physical (pushing, shoving or threatening physical assault)
• gestural (nonverbal glances to scare)
• exclusionary tactics (not inviting a person to a relevant business meeting).
• Work-interference or sabotage

Your status of employment cannot be determined by:
• Age (40 years or older)
• Color
• Genetic Information (protected types)
• Disability (physical or mental)
• National Origin
• Race
• Religion
• Sex (including pregnancy and childbirth)

YOUR RIGHTS AS AN EMPLOYEE INCLUDE:
• Reasonable Religious Accommodation – Failure by employer to reasonably accommodate your religious practices constitutes discrimination. Accommodations include wearing a headscarf, praying during work hours, having a beard, and going to Friday prayers.
• Fairness in Firing, Hiring, and Promotions – These decisions cannot be made on the basis of your race, religion, sex, or ethnicity.
• Non-hostile Work Environment – Employees must not be subject to insults, harassment, or excessive proselytizing based on race, religion, sex, or national origin.
• Complain about Discrimination without Retaliation – It is illegal for your employer to retaliate against an employee that reports an act of alleged discrimination.
• Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination during the hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, training and tenure portion of one’s employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
• Have an individual, organization, or agency report a hostile work environment on your behalf.

If you are being bullied:
1. Complain to your employer.
2. File a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or a state or local agency).
3. File a private lawsuit (after you receive a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC).

Source: The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide for Women

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the above information, please feel free to contact us at (312) 212-1520, or complete the Contact Us form.

If you need to report an incident regarding an issue with bullying in the workplace, please fill out this form.

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