EEOC Issues Guidance on Religious Discrimination

The EEOC has issued a new compliance manual section on religious discrimination under Title VII.  A summary, contained in a question and answer format, is reprinted below.  

You may already know that Title VII requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to their employees' religious practices.  What you may not realize, but what has long been evident from case law, is that the burden on an employer is relatively light.  An employer can refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would pose an "undue hardship."  And undue hardship may be shown if the accommodation would impose “more than de minimis cost” on the operation of the employer’s business.  As the new compliance manual section recognizes, "the employer’s showing of undue hardship under Title VII is easier than under the ADA," though the burden of persuasion is still on the employer. 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with at least 15 employees, as well as employment agencies and unions, from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It also prohibits retaliation against persons who complain of discrimination or participate in an EEO investigation. With respect to religion, Title VII prohibits:

treating applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs or practices - or lack thereof - in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, assignments, discipline, promotion, and benefits (disparate treatment);

subjecting employees to harassment because of their religious beliefs or practices - or lack thereof - or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they associate (e.g., relatives, friends, etc.);

denying a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant's or employee's sincerely held religious beliefs or practices - or lack thereof - if an accommodation will not impose more than a de minimis cost or burden on business operations; 1 and,

retaliating against an applicant or employee who has engaged in protected activity, including participation (e.g., filing an EEO charge or testifying as a witness in someone else's EEO matter), or opposition to religious discrimination (e.g., complaining to human resources department about alleged religious discrimination).

The following questions and answers were adapted from EEOC's Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination, available at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/religion.html, which contains more detailed guidance, legal citations, case examples, and best practices. It is designed to be a practical resource for employers, employees, practitioners, and EEOC enforcement staff on Title VII's prohibition against religious discrimination, and provides guidance on how to balance the needs of individuals in a diverse religious climate.

1. What is "religion" under Title VII?

Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief and defines religion very broadly for purposes of determining what the law covers. For purposes of Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. An employee's belief or practice can be "religious" under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual's belief or practice, or if few - or no - other people adhere to it. Title VII's protections also extend to those who are discriminated against or need accommodation because they profess no religious beliefs.

 

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