Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the number of religious-discrimination complaints against employers has gone up by 67%. To address that, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued new guidelines for employers on what’s considered a “religion” and what an employer’s obligations are for accommodating employees’ religious observations.
The guidelines don’t represent any real change in the rules, but they do clarify some issues that employers have struggled with:
- What’s a religion? The definition of “religion” is broad and covers traditional belief in a god as well as nontraditional – but sincerely held – moral or ethical beliefs as to what’s right and wrong. So the belief doesn’t necessarily have to be based on a deity or any of the traditional organized religions.
- What aspects of the workplace are covered by the rules against religious bias? The prohibition against religious discrimination covers all aspects of the workplace, including recruitment, hiring, promotion, discipline, scheduling, compensation, and termination. In other words, religious bias is considered the same as any other bias — race, gender, disability, etc.
- Is there any such thing as “religious harassment”? Yes, employees can charge an employer with religious harassment, just as they can charge racial harassment or sexual harassment. That means if a supervisor overlooks it when employees ridicule another because of religious beliefs, that supervisor is opening the door for a religious-harassment lawsuit.
While the EEOC doesn’t set strict rules on when an employer should or shouldn’t accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs by flexible scheduling or other means, the agency does require employers to take any reasonable measures that don’t create an undue burden, financial or otherwise, on the company.