March 6, 2014
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new, detailed guidelines for employers Thursday (March 6) as the number of complaints and million-dollar settlements for cases of religious workplace discrimination neared record levels in 2013.
An EEOC spokesperson, Justine Lisser, said Thursday that the 20-year trend shows “a persistent uptick in religious discrimination charges that continues unabated.” Complaints have more than doubled since 1997. Lisser also said that representatives of religious groups have asked for more EEOC outreach in this area.
There have been guidelines in the past but the EEOC spelled out workplace rights and responsibilities in a new question-and-answer guide and accompanying fact sheet.
The new guidelines detail how businesses with more than 15 employees must accommodate workers with “sincerely” held religious beliefs — and unbelievers who “sincerely” refuse religious garb or insignia. Businesses cannot refuse to interview a Sikh with a turban or a Christian wearing a cross. Neither can they limit where employees work because of their religious dress.
In 2013, Umme-Hani Khan won her case against Abercrombie & Fitch, filed in 2011, after a supervisor said she didn’t fit the model look for their San Mateo, Calif., store because she wore a headscarf.
Title VII, which is enforced by the EEOC, “defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”
The rules apply to the sincerely unreligious as well, as long as these views relate to “what is right or wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”
According to the EEOC, in fiscal year 2013, the commission received 3,721charges alleging religious discrimination, more than double the 1,709 charges received in fiscal year 1997.