harass.txtn Defined Before you can make these decisions, you need tounderstand the law about discrimination and harassment.There is no official definition of harassment, but it can bedescribed as being singled out because of yourreligion formistreatment, particularly if it makes it harder to doyour job. If you are harassed by your superiors, this isdiscrimination.U.S. Workers Employed "At Will" According to a 19th Century Supreme Court ruling,commonly called "Employment at Will," your employer mayhire, fire, promote, or demote you at any time, for anyreason , and without stating a reason, unless you have awritten contract that states otherwise. There are generallyfour exceptions to this: (1) for your age, gender, ethnic ornational origin, religion or any other reason mentioned inthe civil rights acts; 2) for filing workplace safetycomplaints as covered by the Occupational Safety & HealthAct; (3) for attempting to organize a uion, protected by theNational Fair Labor Practices Act; or (4) for any disabilityprotected under the Americans with Disabilities Act.The Burden of Proof is On YOU. However, because your employer does not have to givea reason for his or her action, the burden is on you toprove that you were fired, mistreated, or not hired was forone of the reasons given above.Interview? Say "I Prefer Not to Discuss Religion at Work." What should you do if you are asked questions aboutreligion, either on a job application or during aninterview? You should remember that there is no legal reasonfor an employer to ask you this; we suggest that you leavethat field blank, or if asked, answer only, "I prefer notto discuss religion at work"--and then stick to it. If theydon't hire you, you may have a perfect case for a religiousdiscrimination lawsuit, so contact the nearest office of theEqual Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) orequivalent agency immediately.Collect, Preserve Any Evidence. In the event you are fired or harassed on the job,unless you can produce documentation that can be presentedin court that your mis-treatment was religiousdiscrimination or harassment, you do not have a case.Therefore, if you think there is any risk that youremployment situation may lead to a lawsuit or formalcomplaint, the most important thing you can do is to collectand preserve evidence.Take Notes in a Spiral-Bound Noteook Buy a spiral-bound notebook, and after everyincident that you consider to be harassment ordiscrimination, discreetly write down the name of the personwho harassed you, where and when it happened, whatthey did or said, and the names of everyone who saw or heardit. It would be sensible to keep the existence of thisnotebook private. If you can do so without calling attention to it,you might want to use a tape recorder. In most states, it islegal to tape any conversation that you're part of. If youdo end up in court, your attorney will determine whether ornot your tapes can be used as evidence.Always Get Copies of Your Personnel File Whether or not you are being harassed now, try toget a copy of your personnel file at least once a year. Youmay have no actual right to a copy, but many employers willgive you one if you ask. After all, if you have receivedfavorable reviews until your religious trouble started,it might help to be able to prove it.Co-Workers May Not Be Trying to Hurt You In most cases, the people you work with are notreally trying to hurt your feelings or make you angry. Theyprobably just don't know any better. They may be trying tomake a joke or convert you to their point of view. Manypeople are simply more comfortable around persons whoshare their value system. If you quietly and privately explain what they havesaid or done that offended you, and how it made you feel,they'll probably stop. You need to be discreet and speak tothem alone, with no one else around.Will a Little Gentle Humor Lower the Tension? If the situation becomes tense, consider a littlegentle humor to lower the tension. Try not to embarrassthem or put them on the defensive. It is better to act hurtthan angry. If you are accused of having no sense ofhumor, ask them for example, if they would tell gas chamberjokes or Holocaust jokes to Jews.DON'T Gossip, Gloat, or Argue Religion Remember, your complaint is with that person alone.No matter how tempted you are, don't complain to yourco-workers about your treatment. If the offender apologizes, don't gloat. It is importantto treat any apology as sincere. You must also remember thatyou are not trying to get into theology discussions, butrather to stop any harassment. The issue here is harassment,not whose religion is "better" or more "right."If Informal Means Fail, Consider a Formal Complaint Most disputes can be resolved through such informalmeans. If, however, all of your attempts to work things outin a reasonable, adult manner have failed, then you may wantor need to appeal to a higher authority.Winning Won't Guarantee You a Pleasant Place to Work. If informal discussions do not resolve the matterthen you have a difficult decision to make. As soon as youstart a formal complaint the atmosphere is going to get muchmore unpleasant. If you think you can find work elsewhere orif you can endure the present situation, you might be betteroff doing so. The law may be on your side but winning aformal complaint or lawsuit won't guarantee you a pleasantplace to work. Of course, if you don't challenge religiousdiscrimination or harassment, it will keep happening. Thisis a decision that nobody can make for you.Go to Your Supervisor or to Personnel.Don't Go Over Your Boss's Head. If you are going to file a harassment complaintabout a co-worker, the first formal conversation should bewith your supervisor. If you need to file a harassmentcomplaint about your supervisor, your conversation should bewith Personnel or Human Resources. Don't jump the chain ofcommand and go over your boss's head. If your supervisor wasn't very helpful, see if yourcompany has a policies and procedures manual, and thenfollow its advice on how to file a complaint. If not, ask tosee whoever is in charge of personnel. When in doubt, go to them--it is their job to assistyou.If You Are In a Union, Talk to Your Union Rep. There is an important exception to the previous twoparagraphs: if you are a member of a union, your contractmay provide you with specific rights, remedies andprocedures to follow. In this case your firstconversation should be with your shop steward or other unionrepresentative.Call the EEOC Before the 300 Day Deadline. If it has been nearly 300 days since you were lastharassed or discriminated against and you still havereceived no satisfaction through informal or corporatechannels, call the nearest office of the United States EqualEmployment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and explainyour situation to an investigator. Ask the investigator foradvice. If he or she recommends that you file a formalcomplaint, ask whether you need to file separately with yourstate's equivalent of the EEOC. You do not have to wait until the corporateprocedures have been exhausted. In most cases there is a 300day deadline for filing a complaint with the EEOC or stateagency.Use Informal Means, Formal Complaint, and EEOC First! If you have not exhausted informal means, made areasonable attempt at using corporate remedies, gonecompletely through the EEOC's procedures and their completeappeals process, then filing a lawsuit would be futile.Now You Need a Lawyer if You're Going to Go On. If you have reached this point and gotten no relief,you must retain a lawyer if you want to go any further. Youand your lawyer need to determine what your objectives willbe in filing a lawsuit. Remember, you are not entitled to the free servicesof an attorney even if you have been fired from your job.You are filing the complaint, and your employer is thedefendant. And remember: because the employer is thedefendent, the burden of proof is on you!Help Finding a Lawyer If you need help finding an attorney contact yourstate's Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service which islisted in the phone book. You may also wish to consult such organizations as yourlocal chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union whichshould also be listed in the phone book.IMPORTANT: Report Actual Threats to the Police! It is important to note that if at any time duringthe resolution process, either formal or informal, theharassment escalates to the point of assault, physicalthreats, slashed tires, stalking, or anything else where areasonable person would fear for their safety, you mustcall the police! This has now gone beyond the realm ofharassment into criminal activity. Don't feel embarrassedabout calling the police for something that started out witha joke or whatever. A well-timed complaint could save yourlife.Contact AMER Feel free to contact AMER for general advice andsupport in the early stages of your dispute and please keepus up to date on your case's progress. You can reach AMER at our voice mail box, (314)994-1026 or by writing to Alliance for Magical and EarthReligions, P.O. Box 16551, Clayton, MO 63105. Ourelectronic mail liaison is Chris Carlisle,C24884CC@wuvmd.wustl.edu.The AMER Guide to Handling Religious Harassment at Work iscopyright 1993 by the Alliance for Magical and EarthReligions. Permission is granted to reprint this document inits entirety. All other rights reserved.