The EEOC today released a new compliance manual section on religious discrimination in the workplace.  A press release from the EEOC is available here while you can download the actual section directly here.   

What is useful about the compliance manual section, according to the EEOC, is that it "includes a comprehensive review of the relevant provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the EEOC’s policies regarding religious discrimination, harassmenprayer on the brooklyn bridge, courtesy library of congress (flickr) t and accommodation. The EEOC also issued a companion question-and-answer fact sheet and best practices booklet."

So, what sorts of issues does the compliance manual section cover?

The Section addresses what constitutes “religion” within the meaning of Title VII; disparate treatment based on religion; the requirement to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs and practices; religion-based harassment; and retaliation. The Section also provides guidance on the sometimes complex workplace issues involved in balancing employees’ rights regarding religious expression with employers’ need to maintain efficient, productive workplaces.

For employers, the most helpful section is probably the "best practices" booklet, available here. There are a number of common-sense suggestions that are posted. Nothing is ground-breaking, but it’s a good resource, particularly coming from an agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

Among the suggestions:

  • Employers should have a well-publicized and consistently applied anti-harassment policy that: (1) covers religious harassment; (2) clearly explains what is prohibited; (3) describes procedures for bringing harassment to management’s attention; and, (4) contains an assurance that complainants will be protected against retaliation. The procedures should include a complaint mechanism that includes multiple avenues for complaint; prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations; and prompt and appropriate corrective action.
  • Employers should allow religious expression among employees to the same extent that they allow other types of personal expression that are not harassing or disruptive.
  • Once an employer is on notice that an employee objects to religious conduct that is directed at him or her, the employer should take steps to end the conduct because even conduct that the employer does not regard as abusive can become sufficiently severe or pervasive to affect the conditions of employment if allowed to persist in the face of the employee’s objection.

Overall, it’s a welcome addition for employers, and for employees who want to understand their rights better.