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  1. Blog
  2. Management
  3. January 26, 2023

Identifying Antisemitism in the Workplace + Advice for Managers & Allies

Learn to keep your teams safe

Woman in black and white
Photo courtesy of Quinten de Graaf

Prejudice against Jewish people, called antisemitism, is on the rise. 

According to the Pew Research Center, about six in 10 Jewish people have reported experiencing a direct, personal experience with antisemitism in the past 12 months, such as seeing antisemitic graffiti or vandalism, being a victim of online harassment, or hearing someone repeat an antisemitic slur. Three-quarters believe there’s more antisemitism in the U.S. today than there was five years ago. 

In 2021, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the U.S. The 2,717 reported incidents translate to more than seven antisemitic incidents a day and a 34 percent increase year to year.

Why the sudden uptick? Pew respondents say people who are antisemitic feel more emboldened to express their views publicly. A worldwide antisemitism report cited social media as playing "an exceptionally alarming role" in growing antisemitic incidents. 

Two recent widely publicized examples of antisemitism on social media involved Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving and rapper Kanye West. In October 2022, Irving Tweeted a link to a documentary containing antisemitic material, which subsequently shot to the top of Amazon's charts after he posted it. He later deleted the Tweet. That same month, West was suspended from both Instagram and Twitter after sharing antisemitic tropes, including an image of a Swastika.

Because of this rise in hate, many Jewish people feel uncomfortable sharing their religious affiliation right now. Nearly one in four Jewish people say they avoid publicly wearing, carrying, or displaying things that might identify them as Jewish. And that hesitation and fear can seep into the workplace as well. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) even issued a resolution condemning violence, harassment, and bias against Jewish people specifically. "There has been a rising tide of hatred," says EEOC commissioner Andrea Lucas. "Too often, instances of antisemitism in the workplace go ignored, unreported, or unaddressed…Jewish persons, like all persons, should be treated with dignity and respect at work and in all other aspects of their lives."

Let’s take a deeper look at how antisemitism manifests in the workplace and how managers can check in with their teams and address discrimination proactively in order to combat antisemitism. 

Read more: A Quick Guide to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Everything You Need to Know

Antisemitism: Examples and protections in the workplace

Antisemitism in the workplace manifests in various ways, including things like managers firing, not hiring, or paying someone less because they’re Jewish, giving Jewish employees less desirable work assignments or conditions, refusing to grant religious accommodations to Jewish workers, making discriminatory or harassing remarks, and so on.

Antisemitism can often be classified as religious discrimination—treating a person unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. This type of religious discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment (hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, etc) is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under the law, employers must reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs or practices, unless it’s “an undue hardship on the employer's operation of its business.” Examples of common religious accommodations might include flexible work hours, voluntary shift substitutions, job reassignments, or modifications to workplace policies like dress codes.

For example, Jewish employees may request an accommodation not to work on certain holidays (like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur) or ask for dress code exemptions in order to wear religious garments like a yarmulke. 

Oftentimes, antisemitism comes in the form of exclusionary practices or harassment. Here are a few examples of what antisemitism might look like in the workplace:

  • Unequal time off policies, especially for holiday observances. Many Jewish employees have to use more personal or vacation days to observe religious holidays.

  • Workplace meetings planned on Jewish religious holidays, parties where religious dietary restrictions aren't honored, or holiday celebrations for certain religious holidays but not others.

  • Derogatory comments about physical appearance or phrases like "You’re being such a grammar-Nazi."

  • Stereotypic remarks—even if they’re meant as compliments—for example, saying, "Of course Alana is an outstanding lawyer, Jewish people are great negotiators." 

  • Blaming a coworker’s mistake, a coworkers’ promotion, etc. on their Jewishness.

  • And more overtly, threats of violence made against Jewish coworkers or people.

Antisemitic views are more common than you might think, as well—one in four hiring managers said in a survey they’re less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants. Plus, one in six said leadership told them not to hire Jewish applicants, and almost a third (29 percent) said antisemitism is “acceptable” at their company.

Read more: How to Handle Unfair Treatment at Work

How to check in with your direct reports amid rising incidents of antisemitism 

Managers who want to foster inclusive work environments should check in with their employees and talk about what’s happening in the world—and how the news might affect their ability to do their job. 

1:1’s are a great time to bring up more sensitive topics like religion and mental health. You can open up a conversation with direct reports who are Jewish by saying something along the lines of, “I’ve been reading a lot in the news, and I’m concerned about how this might be impacting you and your family. How are you doing?”

Invite your direct reports to share any concerns they may have, both personal and professional. If they bring up increased stress levels or worries over not having the mental capacity to complete their work, it’s time to talk more in depth about mental health. Use our guide on how to discuss mental health with direct reports for tips on starting that conversation. 

If they say they’ve witnessed or experienced discrimination or prejudice, talk to them about their options. Employees can file a claim with the EEOC if they’ve experienced discrimination, and it’s best to do so as soon as possible. After filing a claim, point them toward any mental health and counseling benefits your company offers.

Make sure all your direct reports, regardless of religious background, know they play an integral role in fighting antisemitism. Ensure them that it’s the right thing to do to report instances of antisemitism to you or human resources if they witness it. You can also start a conversation about how to stand up to discriminatory comments and offer guidance on how to respond to inappropriate social media or Slack posts, or the process for escalating incidents if necessary. 

Read more: How to Report Discrimination at Work

How to check in with your larger team and set expectations

Building anti-discrimination policies for employees of all races, ages, genders, religions, and sexual orientations should always be a top priority for inclusive workplaces.

In 2022, organizations spent roughly $9.3 billion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. But Jewish employees’ voices aren’t always included in those efforts and conversations. 

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts can be tremendously wonderful if done correctly," says Lucas. "But if you are excluding Jews from that conversation, if you're ignoring the risks of engaging in antisemitic tropes, you can end up hurting the very people you thought you were helping."

First and foremost, educate yourself. It’s imperative to understand the intersectionality within the Jewish community—it’s not one homogenous collective, but rather a diverse community made up of individuals that might have different political affiliations or varying views on what Judaism is.

Then, talk to your Jewish colleagues directly to learn what they feel most passionate about and what they’d like to hear and share more of in the workplace. Based on their responses, set up antisemitism awareness trainings and workshops and invite external speakers to present to your larger teams. The Museum of Jewish Heritage Speakers Bureau, made up of Holocaust survivors and descendants, offers presentations on their family’s experiences during the Holocaust, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington have plenty more helpful information to share. 

During company-wide meetings, acknowledge that antisemitism is a very real threat and discuss allyship with your entire team. You can open up the dialogue the same way you would with a direct report: “I’ve been reading about X in the news, and I don’t want it to affect our business, customers, or team. I want to open up dialogue about how we can all be better allies.” 

When you hear of antisemitism in your community or in national news, address it and make it clear there will be a zero-tolerance policy for any type of hate speech or harassment at work. 

"When public figures engage in antisemitism, it is important to signal that behavior is unacceptable and that there's a price to be paid. Allowing…comments to pass is dangerous because it can legitimize or normalize those kinds of comments," says Dov Waxman, the director of the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA. 

Finally, gauge interest among your employees for a Jewish community employee resource group (ERG). ERGs can provide a safe space for employees with shared identities, build community and a sense of belonging, and create momentum for a positive change within the larger organization. 

As a manager, you should always want to keep your team safe. Any antisemitic incident can be a signal of real danger, so it’s important to always take every single incident as seriously as possible. With the right resources and policies, we can work toward ensuring all Jewish employees feel seen, heard, and respected at work and in society. 

Read more: The Direct Report Relationship: How Managers Can Grow Employees & Build Trust

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