New Religious Discrimination Guidelines
Aid Sabbath Keepers
Compliance Manual’ Section Strengthens Worker’s Arguments, Adventist Says
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
eventh-day Adventists in the United States will have some support from the federal government as they seek to observe the Bible Sabbath, a religious liberty leader said.
On July 22, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created to help enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, issued a “Compliance Manual Section” on workplace discrimination on the basis of religion.
According to an EEOC announcement, the document “includes a comprehensive review of the relevant provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the EEOC’s policies regarding religious discrimination, harassment, and accommodation. The EEOC also issued a companion question-and-answer fact sheet and best practices booklet” relating to the topic, and said all three documents are available on the agency’s web site.
In the statement, the current head of the commission said that the information is designed to help employers accommodate the needs of workers.
“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 seeks to ensure that applicants and employees enjoy the freedom to compete, advance and succeed in the workplace, irrespective of their religious beliefs,” EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp said. “This Compliance Manual Section serves as a valuable resource for employers, employees, practitioners and EEOC staff seeking information on Title VII’s prohibition against religious discrimination.”
According to the commission, the document “addresses what constitutes ‘religion’ within the meaning of Title VII; disparate treatment based on religion; the requirement to reasonably accommodate religious beliefs and practices; religion-based harassment; and retaliation.” It also “provides guidance on the sometimes complex workplace issues involved in balancing employees’ rights regarding religious expression with employers’ need to maintain efficient, productive workplaces.”
The commission said it issued the new guidelines “in response to an increase in charges of religious discrimination, increased religious diversity in the United States, and requests for guidance from stakeholders and agency personnel investigating and litigating claims of religious discrimination.”
According to the commission, “religious discrimination charge filings with the EEOC nationwide have risen substantially over the past 15 years, doubling from 1,388 in Fiscal Year 1992 to a record level of 2,880 in FY 2007.”
The “best practices” document includes this advice: “Employers should work with employees who need an adjustment to their work schedule to accommodate their religious practices,” which, by implication, includes the Sabbath.
James Standish, legislative affairs director in the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department of the General Conference, lauded the “specificity” and “examples” provided in the documents.
“These documents are based on legal opinions from across the [federal] circuit [courts] across the country,” Standish told Adventist Review in an interview. “Employers don’t always understand the requirements” for accommodation, he added, “but EEOC guidelines say something” they can grasp.
For Adventists, “the bottom line is that it is easier to go to employers and explain the protections under the law.” Although the EEOC guidelines will be of use to Adventists and others seeking reasonable accommodation, Standish said the fight to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, or WRFA, will continue. (See Adventist Review, March 13, 2008, p. 18).
“There are many ways to advance the cause,” Standish said. However, he added, “this is an important step. It’s a big deal for us."