Combatting Antisemitism in the Workplace

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What is antisemitism?

Antisemitism includes hatred or prejudice against Jews, persons perceived to be Jewish, or persons who are associated with Jews or the Jewish religion.  When antisemitism appears in the workplace, it may lead to employees being harassed, marginalized or discriminated against in other ways that may violate Federal and California civil rights laws.

Although it has no single, universally accepted definition, “antisemitism” is generally understood to include certain common elements.  For example, the U.S. Department of State has cited to a working definition created by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia:  “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”[1]  It provides a number of examples of actions that should be considered antisemitic:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews (often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion).
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective—especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the state of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.

It is important to note that in addition to religious discrimination (including a failure to reasonably accommodate Jewish employees’ religious practices), antisemitism may, depending on the circumstances, take the form of discrimination on the basis of ancestry,[2] national origin[3] or race.[4]

Is antisemitism in the workplace unlawful?

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, antisemitic discrimination or harassment in the workplace is illegal, and can (depending on the situation) be treated as a form of religious, national origin, and/or ancestry discrimination and harassment.  For example, if Jewish persons are treated differently with respect to application screening, job interviews, hiring, promotions, working conditions, compensation, and transfers or terminations, this could well constitute a violation of those laws.  Similarly, harassment invoking the above-described antisemitic beliefs, or antisemitic slurs or stereotypes, may be so severe or pervasive as to create an unlawful hostile work environment. 

In addition, an employer’s denial of reasonable religious accommodations to Jewish employees — such as allowing scheduling adjustments or leave time to observe Shabbat or holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, permitting the wearing of yarmulkes or prayer shawls, or refusal to recognize Jewish religious holidays on a par with those of other religions — may also constitute unlawful discrimination. 

In these situations, employers must consider all available alternatives to try to grant the religious accommodation.  If they deny the request, they will need to show that the burden upon them is substantial given the nature and operation of the business.

What should I do if I believe I have encountered antisemitism in my workplace?

If you think you have been discriminated against or harassed because you are Jewish, perceived to be Jewish, or because of your association with Jewish co-workers or causes (including speaking out against antisemitism), you should promptly notify your employer, preferably by making a formal complaint.  Under the law, your employer is required to investigate claims of discrimination and harassment and, where such actions are found to have occurred, to take prompt and effective steps to stop those actions and to prevent them from happening again.  If your employer fails to do so, it may become liable for the discrimination and harassment carried out by its employees.

If your employer does not take prompt and effective action to stop the discrimination or harassment, you may file a complaint of discrimination or harassment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the California Civil Rights Department (“CRD”) if you want to preserve your right to file a legal claim in federal or California state court.  Please note that if you choose to file your complaint with the EEOC, in California you must do so within 300 days of when the discrimination or harassment took place.  If you choose to file with CRD, by contrast, you must do so with three years of the date of the discrimination or harassment. See our Discrimination and Harassment in Employment and How to File a Charge of Discrimination fact sheets for more information about employer size eligibility requirements and how to file a claim with either agency. 

Relevant Legal Aid at Work Fact Sheets

External Resources


[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20170210041344/https://www.state.gov/s/rga/resources/267538.htm.

[2] The California Fair Employment and Housing Act bars employment discrimination based, among other things, on an employee’s ancestry or perceived ancestry.  Cal. Gov’t Code § 12940(a).

[3] Cf. Saint Francis College v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604 (1987) (interpreting 42 U.S.C. § 1981).

[4] Cf. Shaare Tefila Congregation v. Cobb, 481 U.S. 615 (1987) (interpreting 42 U.S.C. § 1982).