EEOC Updates Religious Discrimination Policies

On January 15, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination, which aims to clarify how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects federal employees and private-sector workers from religious discrimination on the job. The agency’s leadership panel voted 3-2 – along party lines – in favor of the updates. 

One of the most important additions to the guidance is EEOC’s broad view of several exceptions to Title VII coverage for religious organizations. According to the law, “religious organizations” can hire and employ individuals of a specific religion. If a religious organization faces a Title VII claim of discrimination or retaliation, then – as a legal defense – it can say the decision was made based on religion. 

This religious organization exemption applies to “primarily religious” institutions. Additionally, the EEOC will consider the facts on a case-by-case basis and “no one factor” will impact if an entity is considered a religious organization, which leaves the door open for some for-profit organizations to qualify. 

The revisions made by the EEOC also provide further explanation of “religious accommodations,” which are adjustments to the work environment that enable the employees to comply with their religious beliefs. The guidance refers to several methods of accommodation, such as scheduling flexibility, voluntary shift or assignment swaps or substitutes, lateral job assignment changes or transfers, and modifying workplace policies, procedures, and practices. 

Furthermore, denial of such reasonable accommodation based on religion is actionable – even if the employee has not separately experienced an independent adverse work-related action, such as being terminated, demoted, or disciplined for being denied accommodation. However, an employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious expressions in the workplace if it imposes an undue hardship on business operations. 

If you are facing a federal employment issue and you are looking for knowledgeable and skilled representation, contact Pines Federal today at (888) 898-9902 and get more than 50 years of combined experience on your side. We have offices in Baltimore, Atlanta, and Houston. 

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