On November 17th, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced its need for public input on updated guidance. The guidance discusses how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII) protects individuals from workplace religious discrimination. It also sets forth the legal protections available to religious employers. The updated information will be in the EEOC’s Compliance Manual’s section on Religious Discrimination (Manual).

During a public meeting on November 9th, 2020, the EEOC voted (3-2) to publish its proposed changes to the Manual. The draft guidance is available for review here.

Updates to the Manual

The current version of the Manual, last updated in 2008, does not reflect recent legal developments and emerging issues. Since 2008, several Supreme Court decisions, as well as the lower courts, have altered the legal landscape. The revisions to the guidance include:

  • important updates to protections for employees from religious discrimination in the context of reasonable accommodations and harassment; and
  • an expansion on the discussion of legal defenses that may be available to religious employers.

Submitting Comments

The 30-day comment period for comments ends on December 17th, 2020. Employers should provide input in a narrative form here in letter, email, or memoranda format. Or, send hard copies to:

Public Input, EEOC,
Executive Officer,
131 M Street, N.E.,
Washington, D.C. 20507.

The input provided is later posted publicly on http://www.regulations.gov and may show email addresses.

After reviewing the public comments, the EEOC will consider appropriate revisions to the draft guidance before replacing the 2008 version. This request for comments comes after the EEOC released its annual Fiscal Year 2020 Agency Financial Report. Also highlighted in the report, the EEOC announced it recovered a record $535 million for workplace discrimination victims.

Employee Takeaways

While Title VII applies federally to employers with 15 or more employees, some states have their own religious discrimination laws. Some of these state laws could apply to small employers with as few as 1 employee, depending on the state.  Accordingly, employers need to investigate which, if any, state-specific anti-discrimination laws they need to follow.  Employers should also make sure that all employees are fully trained on the workplace’s discrimination prevention policies and procedures.