Can my employer tell me I can’t make eye contact with their Arab clients?

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Can my employer tell me I can’t make eye contact with their Arab clients?

I was told that I’m not to make eye contact with Arab clients. Basically, I am supposed to look at the ground. I’m an American working in America and I don’t feel that I should have to do that. I find it degrading and sexist. Can the company ask me to do that if they wouldn’t ask that of a man? Isn’t that sexual harrassment? If I refuse and they fire me do I have recourse?

Asked on April 23, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, Washington

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

No, they cannot, unless they tell ALL employees, male and female, to not look Arab clients in the eye; in that event, there is no discrimination. 
But if they only tell a female employee or employees to do this, it IS illegal workplace discrimination: treating women differently because of their sex/gender. That is not allowed under the law, and you could file a discrimination complaint with the federal EEOC or your state's equal/civil rights agency if they insist you do this or retaliate against you for not doing it. You could recover monetary compensation for the discrimination.
The Arab client is free to not look you in the eye--that's his business. But the company cannot make women keep eyes downcast.


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