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EEOC Asks Public for Input on Revised Enforcement Guidance on Religious Discrimination

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Guidance clarifies protections for employers and employees

EEOC is seeking public comments on its updated Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination. The new guidance explains the ways in which Title VII protects individuals from religious discrimination and sets forth the legal protections and defenses available to religious employers. This guidance updates the current version, last updated in 2008. Since that date, several Supreme Court decisions, as well as lower courts, have changed the legal landscape. The revisions include “important updates to the discussion for protections for employees from religious discrimination in the context of reasonable accommodations and harassment.”

The following summarizes some of the proposed changes since the manual’s last update.

  • Expands the ministerial exception based on two Supreme Court decisions ruling that the exception is not limited to clergy members or those who “minster.”
  • Explains that employers cannot refuse to hire individuals based on the assumption that the individual will request an accommodation based on their religious beliefs. “Magic words” are not required for a valid request for a religious accommodation.
  • Broadens the definition of a “religious organization” to avoid the ruling out of for-profit entities or those engaged in secular activities.
  • Deletes the four-factor test for determining a religious organization.
  • Provides examples on situations that may cause a conflict between an employee’s religious beliefs and controversial topics such as birth control, abortion or LGBTQ rights.
  • Clarifies that secular observances of religious holidays is not prohibited by Title VII.

During a public meeting held on November 9, 2020, EEOC voted, 3-2, to publish its proposed changes to the Manual. The draft guidance is available for public review here. The public has until December 17, 2020 to provide the agency with input. Input can be provided one of the following ways:

  • Submit using www.regulations.gov in letter, email or memoranda format; or by
  • Sending hard copies to: Public Input, EEOC, Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E. Washington, DC. 20507.

Press Release “EEOC Votes to Publish Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination for Public Comments”

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