obama.jpg“It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim-Americans should somehow be treated differently,” said President Obama during a rare speech to the nation last month in the wake of the California shootings.

But when it comes to the workplace, it is more than responsibility.

Employees can’t legally be treated differently because of their religious affiliation. Unfortunately, bias against Muslims has been alive and well in the nation’s offices, factories and beyond in the years following 9/11.

About five years ago, I wrote a story for NBCNews.com about the rise in discrimination against Muslims in the workplace. Within hours the piece got thousands of comments, and by evening I was teary eyed and emotionally spent by the seemingly endless hate-filled diatribes from readers.

At the time, an official at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told me:

“There is a hatred, an open hatred, and a lack of tolerance for people who are Muslim,” said Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for EEOC’s Phoenix district office.

Given the recent shootings in San Bernadino and the fear-fueling by candidates seeking the White House, similar increases in bias may materialize.

When I wrote the story, claims of bias against Muslims in the workplace rose to 1,490 in 2009 from 1,304 in 2008, and just 697 in 2004, according to EEOC figures. The totals for 2009 were even higher than in the year after the 9/11 attacks, when bias claims hit 1,463.

I requested updated data from the EEOC and was provided the following:

Between 9/11/2001 and 9/30/2015, 1,054 charges were filed with the EEOC alleging backlash employment discrimination with over $4,253,000 in monetary benefits through the administrative efforts of EEOC. California had the largest number of charges of all the states, with 170 coming from California. Again, the time frame is from 9/11/2001 through 9/30/2015, which is the end of our fiscal year 2015.

These charges involved employees who are “Muslim or being regarded as Muslim due to inaccurate assessments on appearance,” said Christine Park-Gonazalez, a spokeswoman for the EEOC. “We have seen that people of other religions, such as Sikh, are at times treated as if they are Muslim.”

Indeed, such behavior shows a disturbing lack of understanding and it also shows how fearful people can be, but we have to try and come to terms with our fears.

One labor law expert I respect, Jon Hyman, put it best in a post he wrote after the Paris massacres:

“We cannot let this type of discrimination again pervade our workplaces, no matter how angry we are over the murderous crimes of a few acting in the name of Islam.

“No doubt, we live in scary times. Some will tell you (and I don’t necessarily disagree) that we are amid the third world war (even if it looks very different than any war we’ve fought before). One of this war’s battlelines will be drawn at the ballot box over the issues of immigration and immigrant rights. We must resist the urge to fight this war in our workplaces by harassing and otherwise discriminating against those who have the right to work, and enjoy that right free from discrimination and harassment.”

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