On Tuesday, July 22, 2008, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued a new Compliance Manual Section regarding workplace discrimination on the basis of religion. The EEOC also issued a companion question-and- answer fact sheet, and best practices booklet. These documents are available on the EEOC’s web site at www.eeoc.gov .

According to the EEOC, the agency issued the new Compliance Manual Section in response to (1) increased charges of religious discrimination, (2) increased religious diversity in the United States, and (3) requests from stakeholders and agency personnel investigating and litigating claims of religious discrimination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating in employment based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. With respect to religion, Title VII prohibits: 

  1. treating applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs in any aspect of employment,
  2. subjecting employees to harassment because of their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs,
  3. denying a requested religious accommodation of an applicant or an employee sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, if an accommodation would not impose more than a de minims cost or burden on business operations, 
  4. retaliating against an applicant or employee who has engaged in a protected activity.

According to Alan Kaplan, employers use a variety of methods to provide religious accommodations employees. The most common religious accommodations include (1) shift changes/shift swapping, (2) making an exception to dress and grooming rules, and the (3) use of designated work areas for a religious observance and prayer. Although employers are required to accommodate only those religious beliefs that are “sincerely held” and which can be accommodated without undue hardship, Alan cautions employers about inquiring into an employee’s religious beliefs. Alan emphasizes that employers are only permitted to make a “limited inquiry” into the facts and circumstances of the employee’s claim that his or her beliefs are “sincerely held” and require an accommodation.