The vicious massacre and atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists upon innocent Israeli civilians rendered me speechless.
I know, it’s hard to believe. But the murder of 1,400 children, babies, women, and elderly people, and the kidnapping of so many more? It’s been nearly impossible to find the words.
Yes, I wrote here about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”), resolution condemning harassment and discrimination against Jewish people, providing employers with best practices and next steps. And here, I wrote about the NBA and Brooklyn Nets’ suspension of Kyrie Irving for espousing, and then not disavowing, antisemitism.
But, this is something different. I am shocked, grief-stricken, and terrified by the meteoric rise of antisemitism in the United States since October 7, 2023.
According to the Anti-Defamation League (“ADL”), antisemitism has increased by 400% since October 7. While we see this play out in stunning images on college campuses nationwide, employers must also be vigilant to keep antisemitism out of their workplaces and off their Slack channels and Teams chats.
Because, employers, your Jewish employees are hurting, and they need to know that you support them.
What Is Antisemitism?
It is hard to support employees if you do not recognize antisemitism if it hears its head at work.
So, first, we start with what antisemitism is – it is the hatred of Jews. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, recognized by the U.S.:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Manifestations of this hatred might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. It may be expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits. It may making dehumanizing or demonizing allegations about Jews.
Antisemitism might even be cloaked in a catchy tune invoking freedom from the river to the sea. Folks, according to the AJC, that little chant calls to terrorists and invokes the decimation of Jewish people.
Do Employment Laws Prohibit Antisemitism?
Antisemitism could involve discrimination, harassment, or retaliation related to national origin, race, color, or even genetic information.
If I was a betting person, and I am not, I bet the EEOC will receive more and more charges of antisemitism based on religious, race, and national origin discrimination and harassment.
What Should Employers Do?
- Employers should ensure their EEO, diversity, and inclusivity trainings, policies, and programs include antisemitism. We, including me, spend a lot of time focused on sex discrimination and harassment – and for good reason – but part of our trainings must include what antisemitic harassment looks like.
- Ensure your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies address, specifically, antisemitism. Employment policies must include examples of antisemitic conduct and comments and denounce them as unacceptable in the workplace.
- Employers should provide clear guidance that antisemitic statements and posts on social media will not be tolerated. No, employees who work for private employers do not get to hide behind the “free speech” argument – a private employer can discipline or terminate employee who posts antisemitic statements or rhetoric.
- Employers might consider installing a hotline to report any instances of antisemitism that employees experience or observe. Investigate any complaints immediately.
- If your company has Employee Resource Groups (ERG), add another ERG for your Jewish employees. An ERG is an employee-led group within a workplace that fosters inclusivity in alignment with a business’s practices and goals. With this sharp increase of antisemitism, and rising worldwide, it is increasingly important for organizations to ensure that their Jewish employees feel a sense of belonging and feel welcomed.
- Along the same lines, organizational leaders should reach out to Jewish employees to ensure they feel a sense of safety in their working environment.
- Offer reasonable accommodations to your Jewish employees for religious observances and dress. This is not just a “best practice,” but mandated by Title VII.
- Discuss appropriate online workplace discussions with supervisors and staff, and make clear that hate and discrimination, including antisemitism, has no place in your workplace.
What employers should not do or say is nothing. You may feel awkward calling an employee and saying, “Hey, in light of world events, I wanted to reach out and see how you are doing,” but that’s OK. You can even say that you’re not sure what to say or ask.
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