Amid the devastation and loss of life wrought by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, global employers have closed their offices and businesses in Israel, while some have asked employees to work from home as the fighting continues.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, HR professionals are also responding to fears of workplace harassment and discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Palestinians and other workers.
Jonathan Segal, partner at Duane Morris, fielded several calls from employers last week on topics related to the war, he said in an interview.
Managers “can anticipate there will be harassment or disparagement” of Israelis and Jews as well as of Muslims, Palestinians and people of other ethnicities and nationalities in the coming weeks, said Segal. “They need to respond to it by reacting to it and contacting people in the organization in order to take corrective action.”
How HR departments choose to respond may depend on the nature of the infraction. Above all, though, front-line managers should not make disciplinary decisions alone, Segal said, adding, “I like the idea of going to HR.” Employers also may use this moment as an opportunity to revisit workplace anti-harassment policies to ensure the topic is adequately addressed and the employer has clearly distinguished what types of activity are and are not protected.
Since this war broke out, employers have already taken disciplinary actions. Law firm Winston & Straw announced Oct. 10 that it had rescinded a job offer to a law student and former summer associate of the firm who published “certain inflammatory comments” about the Hamas attacks. Another law firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell, similarly rescinded job offers on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
Federal regulators are paying attention as well. In a LinkedIn post, Commissioner Andrea Lucas of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the agency “stands ready to defend the rights of Jewish employees” who experience antisemitism at work amid the war. The agency also offers resources to help employers identify and address harassment of Muslim workers.
A SHRM statement Oct. 11 asked HR professionals “to lead with civility, compassion, and empathy,” and the organization offered employers resources on navigating international crises.
Beyond compliance with federal nondiscrimination laws, Segal suggested employers extend resources like employee assistance programs and mental health services to affected workers, and consider offering such resources if they do not currently offer them.
Despite the circumstances, Segal said the kindness of colleagues and employers in recent days “is really quite remarkable.” Focusing on positive actions and allyship can aid employers’ educational efforts, he added. Employers also can consider assisting humanitarian organizations that provide aid to victims.
“In times like this, people are sometimes focused on the pure evil you can see on social media, but I’ve also seen an unbelievable amount of kindness,” Segal said. “To me, there’s nothing that helps more in a difficult period than kindness, and I think it is pervasive.”