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EEOC to Update Manual on Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

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In mid-November 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued preliminary revisions to the Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination. The proposed revisions reflect decisions from various employment discrimination court cases that have taken place over the past decade or so since it was last revised.

The public can view and offer input on the updates, which is available online until Dec. 17, 2020. After considering public feedback and making appropriate revisions, the EEOC will release the finalized manual.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees based on a variety of different protected categories:

Generally, employers with 15 or more workers are subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Business owners and employers who do not comply face various penalties. When an employee takes their employer to court for religious discrimination, awards can include compensatory and punitive damages.

Who is Protected Under the Law?

Employees in private sectors, local and state governments, educational organizations, employment agencies, and labor organizations are protected. A person does not have to be employed to experience religious discrimination. Many complaints and lawsuits come from prospective employees who were not hired because of their religious views and beliefs. Anyone unsure whether the law protects their religious views and allows for reasonable accommodations should contact a lawyer for clarification.

What are Common Examples of Religious Discrimination?

Religious discrimination takes many different forms. Some common examples of religious protection violations at work include:

  • Refusing to hire someone based on their religion.
  • Persistent slanderous statements or offensive comments about someone’s religion.
  • Passing an employee over for a promotion or pay raise because of their religion.
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee to observe their religion.

It is important to note that not every joke or comment meets the legal threshold of religious discrimination. Illegal bias is generally more pervasive and has a serious impact on a person’s career prospects.

What is a Hostile Workplace?

When religious discrimination is especially aggressive and persistent, the person being targeting may have a hard time doing their job. Physical threats and emotional trauma create a hostile workplace, and management needs to step in and stop the harassment and discrimination. If a supervisor will not help or if religious discrimination is part of the company culture, the victim should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

What are Religious-Based Accommodations?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who desire to observe their religion while working. Reasonable accommodations may include flexible schedules, designated areas for prayer and other religious observances, and permission to wear religious garments, facial hair, and hairstyles.

It may seem unusual that a certain style of dress or hairstyle is even up for debate. However, in certain types of workplaces, like factories and dining establishments, long hair and some clothing styles are prohibited for safety reasons. In these cases, if the employer and worker cannot strike a balance between safety protocols and religious freedom, the EEOC or the courts must intervene.

Multiple court cases were catalysts for some of the changes to the Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination, which was last revised in 2008. One landmark case centered around religious and cultural head coverings. The suit claimed that a large retail company failed to reasonably accommodate an applicant’s religion by not making an exception to their policy on employee dress. This case paved the way for future discrimination cases.

Private Businesses with Religious Views

Updated guidance for employers with certain religious views is also included among the EEOC Manual changes. The revisions address closely held, for-profit companies with strong religious beliefs that potentially conflict with anti-discrimination laws. In some cases, the federal government cannot negate these beliefs to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

This update comes after a case that involved a national retailer. The company fought to avoid providing health insurance covering contraception for female employees. The legal battle was motivated by personal beliefs about human conception. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, allowing closely held corporations with religious objections to obtain from providing mandatory contraception.

How to Handle Religious Discrimination

Job applicants and employees have multiple resources available to fight religious discrimination at work. Many cases can be resolved with a single report to management. Others require litigation to achieve justice.

Anyone who has encountered harassment or unfair treatment at work because of their religious views should take the following steps:

Take Immediate Action

If the worker feels safe to do so in the moment, they should tell the person engaging in discriminatory conduct they want it to stop. If it continues, the victim should report discrimination to a manager or supervisor in accordance with the company’s anti-harassment policy. An employer is afforded the opportunity to discipline the employee in question and stop the discriminatory behavior.

File a Charge of Discrimination

A complaint at the company level is often enough to resolve workplace harassment and discrimination. If company management endorses or engages in religious discrimination or refuses to put a stop to it, then a formal complaint with the local EEOC office may be necessary.

Some local jurisdictions have their own anti-discrimination laws and Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs) to enforce them. Any complaint filed with a FEPA is automatically co-filed with the EEOC. Once charges are filed, they are accessible through the EEOC online portal. Applicants and employees of federal workplaces have a different process for filing complaints.

Mediation

The complainant and the employer are encouraged to participate in EEOC mediation to arrive at a voluntary settlement. A mediator facilitates productive discussions and suggests reasonable resolutions. A mediator is an objective professional, trained to encourage a resolution that both parties feel is fair. If the charge bypasses mediation or cannot be solved during the process, it is then investigated.

Investigation

The EEOC reviews statements from the employer and evidence from the person who filed the complaint before making a determination. The investigation process takes on average around 10 months to complete. If the investigation does not find the law has been violated, the EEOC issues a Notice of Right to Sue.

Litigation

Once a Notice of Right to Sue has been issued, litigation against an employer can proceed. While skilled legal representation is essential at this stage, it is wise to consult with an experienced lawyer immediately after religious harassment occurs. An lawyer can save their client time and money by evaluating their case and recommending the most sensible course of action under the law.

Public and private sector workers across the nation are afforded certain freedoms, including the right to observe their religion if it does not create undue hardship at work. It is vital for anyone who is harassed or fired for their religious beliefs to fight discrimination and pursue religious protections provided under the law.

Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect the Rights and Religious Freedoms of Workers

Our Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. are committed to protecting the rights of American workers. We fight against workplace discrimination and harassment. If you believe you have encountered religious discrimination at work, we can help. Call us at 215-569-1999 or complete our online form today for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, and Mount Laurel.

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