On January 15th, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) approved revisions to its previous guidance on religious discrimination. Known as the EEOC’s Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination (Manual), the Commission approved the updates on the same date. Overall, the guidance describes how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits workplace religious discrimination. The EEOC previously sought input from the public regarding these proposed revisions back in November 2020.

Revisions to the Guidance

On November 17th, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced its need for public input on updated guidance regarding religious discrimination.  The 30-day public comment period expired on December 17th, 2020.

The previous version of the Manual, last updated in 2008, did 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. For example, the guidance includes mentions of 2014’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and 2015’s EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch. Specifically, 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.

Employer 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.

Personnel Concepts’ Harassment & Discrimination Prevention Training addresses several forms of workplace discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs or practices.  Such training could help demonstrate good faith compliance with Title VII and related laws.