The Employment Law Game is About to Blow Up: A Look at how the Conflict in the Middle East is Affecting Employment for Middle Easterners

By: Jesse Fishman

If you don’t live under a rock you might have heard about a little conflict in the Middle East, and by little conflict, I mean the one that has been going on for a few thousand years and may or may not be a hot topic of the political debates of 2015 and 2016.[1] The candidates in those debates field questions about foreign policy and immigration policy and what they might do with Muslims if elected in the upcoming election.[2] In December of 2015, amidst the growing fear from events taking place in the United States and abroad, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) issued two information question and answer guidance documents about employees who are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern.[3]  The documents were issued to remind employers that discrimination based on nation of origin, race, or religion violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[4]  The documents take you through a series of hypotheticals that include when a woman wears a hijab, when someone calls a co-worker a terrorist, and religious accommodations.[5]  Also, in the guidance documents it is noted that employers cannot make applicants or employees undergo additional security clearance checks.[6]  The documents also note that the discrimination practices also apply to people who appear to be from the Middle East or Muslim.[7] These publications were issued because of the real fear of Muslim radicalization or as President Obama refuses to call it Muslim extremism.[8]

Do Americans feel this way about this way about Middle Easterners more so than other groups because they view them as being loyal to their home countries as opposed to the United States?  Professor Angelo Ancheta thinks so, “Arab Americans [and Latinos] are other groups whose locations in the American racial landscape are defined by foreignness.”[9]  For example, in a Chicago suburb, protesters marched on a mosque chanting “U-S-A” because they believed a mosque is something un-American.[10]

The proportion of full-time employed Muslim compares very similar percentage wise to the general public.[11]  “But underemployment is more common among Muslims than in the general public; 29% of Muslims are either unemployed and looking for work or working part-time but would prefer to have full-time employment, compared with 20% of adults nationwide who are in these circumstances.”[12]  Younger Muslims, under the age of 30 have a much higher unemployment rate than older ones.[13]  Is this because employers are fearful, that when interviewing Muslim applicants they might be hiring the next San Bernadino shooter? It just might be.

[1] See Washington Post Staff, The CNN Democratic debate transcript, annotated, The Washington Post (Oct. 13, 2015)

[2] See Id.

[3] Susana Knutsbon Gibbons, The National Law Review (Jan. 24, 2016)  Of note, one document was for employers, and the other for employees.

[4] Id.

[5] Chair Jenny R. Yang, Questions and Answers for Employers: Responsibilities Concerning the Employment of Individuals Who Are, or Are Perceived to Be, Muslim or Middle Eastern,

guidance document, EEOC, (Dec. 23, 2015),

[6] Jeffrey D. Polsky. EEOC Issues New Guidance Document on Discrimination Against Muslims, Caliornia Employment Law: Comments on Issues Facing California Employers, (Jan. 5, 2016),

[7] Id.

[8] Susana Knutsbon Gibbons, The National Law Review (Jan. 24, 2016)

[9] Angelo Ancheta, Race, Rights, and the Asian American Experience, Rutgers University Press, 1998, 64.

[10] Ghada Quaisi Audi, Challenges Facing the Arab American Community from a Legal Perspective, (2008),


[12] Id.

[13] Id.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: