There's New Guidance on
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,
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