Are Muslim Employees Targets of Workplace Discrimination?

Topic(s): discrimination, diversity, fairness
Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: An experimental field study of interpersonal discrimination toward Muslim job applicants
Authors: E.B. King, A.S. Ahmad
Reviewed by: Kerrin George

A recent New York Times article (Greenhouse, 2010) reported rising discrimination against Muslim employees at work related to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the friction created over the building of an Islamic Center near the site. Such discrimination ranges from overt attacks (e.g., calling Muslim employees terrorists) to preventing them from wearing religious garb or taking prayer breaks at work. Although explicit religious discrimination in the workplace is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the interpersonal experiences of Muslim-Americans may still be affected by negative stereotypes of this group as “dangerous.”


In two studies, King and Ahmad (2010) examined how religious discrimination towards Muslim-Americans may manifest itself in the job application process, via in-person applications at a retail store, and in hypothetical paper-based applications. They compared the experiences of job applicants of different ethnicities who were dressed in traditional Muslim attire (e.g., hijab, abbaya) or not. While they found that there were no differences in whether these applicants experienced formal discrimination (e.g., recommended for a position, offered an interview, likelihood of being hired), applicants dressed in Muslim attire did experience more interpersonal discrimination (i.e., less helpfulness, less eye contact; or more attempts to end interactions, rudeness, hostility, etc.).

The researchers also found that when dressed in Muslim attire, applicants that provided stereotype-inconsistent information by demonstrating “warmth” (e.g., volunteer experience) experienced less interpersonal discrimination.


King, E. B., & Ahmad, A. S. (2010).  An experimental field study of interpersonal discrimination toward Muslim job applicants. Personnel Psychology, 63, 881-906.

Image credit: istockphoto/gorodenkoff