Employment Advisory: EEOC Issues New Compliance Guidance on Religious Discrimination in the Workplace in Response to a Dramatic Increase in Charge


In July, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a new section (Section 12) to its Compliance Manual specifically related to religious discrimination in the workplace. Section 12 includes a comprehensive review of the relevant provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the EEOC’s policies regarding religious discrimination, harassment, and accommodation. In addition to Section 12, the EEOC also issued a “Questions and Answers” fact sheet and a “Best Practices” booklet, which are intended to further clarify the EEOC’s views on religious discrimination. The EEOC’s regulations on religious discrimination, codified in C.F.R. § 1605, are unaffected by Section 12.

Section 12 provides guidance regarding key issues arising in religious discrimination cases, such as: (1) what constitutes “religion” within the meaning of Title VII; (2) disparate treatment based on religion; (3) reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices; (4) religion-based harassment; and (5) retaliation. Section 12 also provides guidance to employers who are often forced to balance employees’ rights regarding religious expression and their need to maintain efficient, productive workplaces.

The EEOC created Section 12 in response to a dramatic increase in religious discrimination charges, increased religious diversity in the United States (and therefore the workplace), and requests for guidance from employers, employees, practitioners, and EEOC personnel involved in the litigation of religious discrimination claims. Notably, the number of religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC over the past fifteen years has more than doubled from 1,388 in 1992 to a record high of 2,880 in 2007.

See full advisory for key provisions and employer action items.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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