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Federal Agencies Focusing on Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

By Lauren Wojtowicz Cohen

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and several other federal agencies recently participated in a series of roundtable meetings through the Combating Religious Discrimination Today initiative. In July, the initiative released a report containing several recommendations which may impact employers.

The roundtable participants’ recommendations in the report include: 

  • Improving education and awareness for employees. The agencies suggest outreach to employees about the process of filing charges with the EEOC and other government agencies; ensuring that posters in the workplace notifying employees about their rights are prominently displayed, and the use of multi-media platforms.
     
  • Improving education and awareness for employers. Ideas included outreach by the EEOC to employers with additional materials to ensure that employers fully understand their obligation to comply with existing non-discrimination and civil rights laws.
     
  • Improving processing times for EEOC charges and increasing transparency.

Following the report, the EEOC released a new resource document to assist workers in better understanding their rights and responsibilities under laws prohibiting religious discrimination in the workplace and announced its plans to improve data collection and outreach on religious discrimination.  The EEOC announced that it will implement changes to its collection of demographic data from individuals who file charges of religious discrimination to collect more precise identification data about the religion of such individuals.  

In an online press release on July 22, 2016, the EEOC also referenced its historical guidelines to educate employers, employees, and the public about religious discrimination, including Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace. It also reiterated its guidance for employees and employers focusing on discrimination against people who are or are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern and reminded readers of its technical assistance publications regarding the proper handling of religious garb and grooming in the workplace.

With the EEOC’s renewed interest and emphasis on religious discrimination in the workplace, employers would be well-served to review their training materials and policies to ensure that they conform with the applicable law. Employers should also ensure that posters outlining employees’ rights are properly displayed.