HR News Update

There's New Guidance on Religious Bias

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued a lengthy and informative new set of guidelines to help employers avoid charges of religious discrimination. The information comes at a time when such employee claims have risen sharply and religious diversity is increasing across the country. We asked BLR Legal Editor Joan Farrell to talk with us about this latest guidance.

There's more diversity. "Because there are now so many different kinds of religions among people in the workforce," said Farrell, "it's very difficult for employers to tell what constitutes a religion or a set of sincerely held beliefs. So they need to tread very lightly, especially around the many unusual, nontraditional beliefs."

The full guidance, which runs to 81 pages, is packed with sample scenarios and advice about how to handle each one. Also helpful is a shorter document that gathers in one place the Employer and Employee Best Practices that are scattered throughout the longer guidance. They cover such topics as Disparate Treatment Based on Religion, Religious Harassment, Reasonable Accommodation of Religious Beliefs and Practices, and Retaliation.

BLR's files of subscriber inquiries to our experts contains a pertinent example: The employer's staff includes a Born-Again Christian and several gay and lesbian employees. The Christian, the HR manager has learned, lectures the gay men frequently about how they'll be condemned for their lifestyle. What should she do? EEOC's best practices say, in part, "Once an employer is on notice that an employee objects to religious conduct directed at him or her, the employer should take steps to end the conduct." The tricky part of such situations, may be, comments Farrell, "If the targets of such conduct don't complain, the employer can have a hard time knowing how to respond. Another difficult situation is one in which the conduct doesn't violate the employer's anti-harassment policy."

Craft an effective policy. Advises Farrell, "Your policy on religious harassment should contain all the same elements as your policy on sexual harassment--such as descriptions and examples of conduct to avoid, and reporting and investigation procedures--and one more: You'll also need to include instructions on how an employee can ask for a religious accommodation. Then it's important to make sure all employees understand the policy and what procedures to follow by either party--the employee whose conduct is harassment and the employee who is offended." One more tip from Farrell: "If you allow your facilities to be used for any nonbusiness purpose, like Weight Watchers, then you'll need to allow employees to use your premises for prayer meetings or other religious observances."

Go Back