How to Stop Antisemitism in the Workplace

How to Stop Antisemitism at Work
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Emtrain HootsworthThis May is Jewish American Heritage Month. It’s normally an opportunity to celebrate Jewish American achievements and contributions to the nation. It’s been nationally recognized since 2006.

But this year feels different. This year, Jewish Americans are experiencing a rising tide of antisemitism – and they’re not alone. Many other religious groups also report feeling targeted and harassed.

And that creates a challenge for organization and HR leaders – to recognize, understand and address the moral and legal issues antisemitism creates.

Understanding Antisemitism in the Workplace

Antisemitism Defined

The Anti-Defamation League defines antisemitism as “the marginalization and oppression of people who are Jewish, based on the belief in stereotypes, myths and disinformation about Jewish people, Judaism and Israel.”

The ADL further adds that “antisemitism sometimes targets Jews not as individuals but as a collective — whether that’s Jewish organizations, movements like Zionism or the Jewish State of Israel.

Rising Incidents of Antisemitism Nationally

In the last two years, the ADL has reported a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents in almost all of the categories it tracks. For example:

  • A 388% rise in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. between Oct. 7 and Oct. 23 over 2022.
  • A 36% jump in antisemitic incidents – hitting the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
  • A 29% increase in acts of verbal or written harassment using antisemitic slurs, stereotypes or conspiracy theories.
  • A 51% increase of acts of vandalism that incorporated evidence of antisemitic intent or which had an antisemitic impact.
  • A 37% increase in the use of swastikas in antisemitic vandalism.
  • And while statistics can sometimes seem sterile and abstract, a recent survey reminds us that antisemitism impacts real people – including the people we work with.
  • 54% of Jewish Americans have experienced or witnessed some form of incident that they believed was motivated by antisemitism over the past five years.
  • 49% of Jews have heard antisemitic comments, slurs or threats targeted at others.
  • 21% have been the target of antisemitism comments, slurs or threats.
  • 22% report antisemitic vandalism, damage or defacement of a Jewish institution they’re associated with.

Antisemitism at Work

When you think of antisemitism at work, you may think of offensive comments or actions on a loading dock or on the factory floor. But the problem can be even bigger than that.

For example, U.S. hiring managers and recruiters were recently surveyed about their feelings towards Jewish employees – and the results were truly disturbing.

  • 37% responding in the survey said antisemitism is either common or very common in their workplace.
  • 21% said they had caught themselves viewing a Jewish applicant negatively.
  • 26% of hiring managers say they are less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants
  • 23% say they want fewer Jewish employees in their industry
  • 12% say leadership told them to not hire Jewish people

The justification for this bias was just as bigoted, with hiring managers and recruiters claiming feelings that Jewish Americans had “too much wealth,” had “too much power and control” and were are “greedy.”

And all this from operational leaders who act as gatekeepers for their teams and who should be defending their organizations’ values and policies.

Antisemitism and the Law

Antisemitism and Other Forms of Religious Discrimination Are Unlawful

Antisemitism is wrong – but it’s also forbidden by law.

Antisemitism is a form of religious discrimination. And discrimination based on someone’s religion is unlawful under both federal and state laws.

To highlight the point, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued a unanimous resolution specifically condemning violence, harassment, and bias against Jews.

The EEOC offers an excellent summary of federal law on this – which we mostly crib below.

Defining Religious Discrimination

Religious discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs.

Federal law protects people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, as well as others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to, or associated with, an individual of a particular religion.

Religious Discrimination & Work Situations

Federal law forbids discrimination based on religion when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Religious Discrimination & Harassment

It is illegal to harass a person because of his or her religion. Harassment can include, for example, offensive remarks about a person’s religious beliefs or practices.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that aren’t very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

Religious Discrimination & Segregation

Title VII also prohibits workplace or job segregation based on religion (including religious garb and grooming practices), such as assigning an employee to a non-customer contact position because of actual or feared customer preference.

Religious Discrimination & Reasonable Accommodation

The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause a burden that is substantial in the overall context of the employer’s business taking into account all relevant factors, including the particular accommodation at issue and its practical impact in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of the employer.

This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.

Examples of some common religious accommodations include flexible scheduling, voluntary shift substitutions or swaps, job reassignments, and modifications to workplace policies or practices.

Antisemitism and Other Forms of Discrimination

While antisemitism can certainly constitute religious discrimination, the Jewish community is diverse and multicultural. And that means workplace antisemitism could also involve national origin, race, color, or even genetic discrimination.

Invest in Workplace Discrimination Training to Stop Antisemitism at Work

Workplace Discrimination Training – Take the Issue Head On

In many workplaces, employees have for years received harassment and discrimination training that at least touches on religious discrimination.

But organizations can’t ignore the spike in antisemitism and act as though its business as usual.

Now is the time to invest in your organization’s values with workplace discrimination training that addresses religious discrimination in the workplace head on.

Workplace Discrimination Training – Broaden Your Lens with Guidance and Skills

Covering the basics is necessary. But don’t stop there. Remember: antisemitism isn’t just a legal issue. It’s a values issue and a skills issue.

So broaden your lens. Give managers and employees the guidance and skills they need to build a more inclusive workplace – where antisemitism and other kinds of religious discrimination simply won’t take hold.

Taking this approach is more likely to be effective and means that discrimination training examples from a broader discrimination training program can include:

  • DEI training that emphasizes the importance of empathy for colleagues and that teach practical skills for working together as a team.
  • Hiring Skills training that teaches hiring managers, recruiters and others involved with recruiting and hiring what is, and isn’t, allowed.
  • EEO training that provides clear guidance to managers on your organization’s hiring and equal employment policies.
  • Conflict and resolution management trainings that teaches managers and employees how to deescalate conflict.
  • Bystander trainings that teaches employees how to respond when they see misconduct, including incidents of antisemitism.

Workplace Discrimination Training – Take Advantage of Microlessons

Microlessons are another excellent option in discrimination training.

Even with a shorter format, microlessons can be highly effective in highlighting the problem, responding to a particular incident in your workplace or reinforcing your organization’s policies and values.

Emtrain has an extensive catalog of discrimination training microlessons, including short form trainings on:

Other Elements Needed to Stop Antisemitism at Work

Leaders Must Be Clear

As with work culture issues, your leaders’ words and actions is crucial.
Leaders at all levels of the organization must acknowledge the rise in antisemitism, make it clear that your workplace welcomes all people and clearly state that antisemitism will not be tolerated. They should also champion DEI initiatives and require discrimination training.

Antisemitism and Religious Discrimination Policies Must Be Clear

Leaders can also help stop antisemitism by making sure their organizations have clear EEO policies that emphasize respect, forbid harassment and discrimination and expressly reference antisemitism.

A Speak Up Culture Must Be a Priority

Employers should also encourage all employees take a stand to stop antisemitism, speak up and to report antisemitism and to be allies with their Jewish colleagues.

Complaints Must Be Taken Seriously

To stop antisemitism, employers should take complaints about antisemitic behavior seriously, quickly investigate incidents and hold bad actors violators accountable. That goes for other forms of religious harassment or discrimination, too.

Parting Thoughts

At some point, everyone’s been told to avoid talking about religion or politics at work. But people do – and people at your organization are doing it right now.

So organization leaders can’t simply put their heads in the sand – and hope the spike in antisemitism will pass.

If your organization has seen incidents, address them. If it hasn’t, act now to avoid future problems.

External Resources

EEOC Resources

The EEOC Resolution on Antisemitism

The EEOC Summary of Law related to Religious Discrimination

Recent EEOC cases related to Religious Discrimination

Antisemitism in the News

ADL Records Dramatic Increase in U.S. Antisemitic Incidents Following Oct. 7 Hamas Massacre

1 in 4 hiring managers say they are less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants

Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in 2022

Survey on Jewish Americans’ Experiences with Antisemitism

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