EEOC Issues Proposed Compliance Manual Update on Religious Belief Accommodation

On November 17, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced a proposed update for its compliance manual specifically concerning religious discrimination. When the proposed manual (which is comprised of 114 pages) is issued, it will supersede the EEOC’s previous manual which it issued on July 22, 2008, and last updated on February 8, 2011.

Under Title VII, employers are legally obligated to accommodate employees’ sincerely held religious beliefs that conflict with a work requirement, unless the requested accommodation would impose an “undue burden” upon the employer. The undue burden standard for religious accommodation is much less demanding than the disability accommodation standard under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). For instance, employers are not required to provide a religious accommodation that would impose more than a “de minimis cost or burden.” The ADA undue burden standard is much more stringent, requiring a finding of “significant difficulty or expense.” The main concepts of religious accommodation are not altered under the proposed changes.

The reason for the proposed changes is a significant increase in religious discrimination cases filed from 1997 to 2019. Many employers seek legal guidance with respect to managing issues that arise from religious diversity in the modern workplace. The purpose of the proposed updates to the compliance manual is to offer more current guidance to employers and to promote religious tolerance in the workplace. The proposed updates to the compliance manual aim to maximize the net benefits and reduce the burden on the public by clarifying legal standards applicable to religious discrimination claims. Among other things, the proposed manual will present examples of typical situations in which religious discrimination may arise and provide additional guidance to employers on how to balance the “needs of individuals in a diverse religious climate.”

The EEOC is currently seeking public input regarding the proposed changes. In fact, the EEOC set up a forum for the public to post comments/opinions regarding the proposed changes. The forum and the proposed manual are available to the public at https://beta.regulations.gov/document/EEOC-2020-0007-0001.

What Does this Mean for You?

The public comment period presents a good opportunity to influence the rule-making process.  Comments can be submitted directly, or through industry associates which often gather comments on behalf of their members. If you have dealt with instances of religious accommodation and wish to provide input, WLG can assist in this process.

For more information on WLG’s discrimination law practice, click here. For more information about WLG’s compliance advice and H.R. Consulting Services, including help with drafting handbooks and policies, click here.

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