What Does the EEOC Do Anyway? Oh, And It Issued Its New Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination

Yesterday, January 15, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) approved revisions to EEOC’s Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination (“Manual”).

I’ve fielded some questions lately about the EEOC, so I wanted to clarify for employers what the EEOC does and does not do:

  • The EEOC is not a court.
  • The EEOC does not make law.
  • The EEOC does issue guidance.
  • The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces the federal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
  • The EEOC’s enforcement responsibilities include investigating charges of workplace discrimination against covered employers, preventing discrimination, and education.

Now, religion-based discrimination regulations have been long outdated. So, in November 2020, the EEOC voted to publish proposed changes to the Manual for public review and input.

Image by Andrea Don from Pixabay

This Manual contains the EEOC’s revisions upon review of the public’s comments to the same, advising employers, employees, and the public of Title VII’s protections for employees from religious discrimination in the workplace. Further, the Manual explains the legal protections available to religious employers.

According to the EEOC’s press release, revisions to the guidance include “important updates to the discussion of protections for employees from religious discrimination in the context of reasonable accommodations and harassment. It also expands the discussion of defenses that may be available to religious employers.”

Taking a look at the revised guidance, I can tell you it’s fairly comprehensive detailing various types of employment decisions, employer “best practices” (which might be helpful for employers to review), the various contexts in which employers may bear liability, various types of accommodations, the RFRA, and a detailed explanation of undue hardship in the context of religion (which differs from disability).  

Among other important decisions, the Manual reminds us that in 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States explained and elaborated on the “ministerial exception” defense to discrimination claims against employers that are are also religion organizations. And so much more.

Take a look at the Manual, and let me know what you think.

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.