Our last article discussed employee guidance provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission relating to Muslim or Middle Eastern worker rights. This guidance stemmed from the EEOC’s concerns due to tragic events involving extremist groups in Paris and San Bernardino. A companion document was issued at the same time for employers. This blog will discuss the employer guidance document.
The EEOC is charged with enforcing federal civil rights laws. It often issues guidance to employers to help them understand employee rights. For instance, the EEOC has previously issued guidance on topics such as religious discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and race and color discrimination.
Like its counterpart, the employer guidance document lists four areas for consideration:
- Religious accommodation; and
The document first directs employers that it is illegal to make employment decisions based on religion, ethnicity, country of origin, race, or color. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from making decisions about employment based on protected class status. These decisions include hiring and promotions, job assignment, pay, and termination.
The EEOC gives an example of an assistant store manager who worries that a potential employee’s religious attire, a hijab, might make some customers uncomfortable. The EEOC directs that this is not a valid reason to not hire the employee. Likewise, it would be equally improper to hire the employee but then assign her to a position with no customer interaction because of her religious clothing.
The EEOC expresses concern that “workplace conversations and interactions” will take place relating to recent events that involved extremist groups. Clearly, the EEOC is worried that employees may act differently at work, with some employees “with some more likely to make unguarded remarks” and others “more afraid of harassment.”
The EEOC therefore advises employers to remind employees of policies that govern harassment and retaliation. It also advise employees to go back and look at those to become familiar with their contents. In this section, the EEOC encourages employers to prevent behavior from escalating, reminding them of their responsibility “to end the harassment and correct its effects on the complaining employee.”
The third section of the employer guidance document discusses employee rights to religious accommodation at work. The EEOC specifically refers to both religious practices, such as prayer, as well as dress. Under federal and California law, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief unless doing so presents an undue hardship. California law goes further, requiring employers to accommodate not just beliefs but also religious preferences, as well as dress and grooming practices.
The employer guidance document specifically advises employers not to deny requests for religious accommodations based solely on speculation that other employees might seek the same accommodation.
Lastly, the employer Q&A reminds employers that they may not retaliate against an employee who engages in protected conduct, including complaining about an alleged discriminatory practice, filing a charge of discrimination, or participating in a discrimination investigation. Contact Labor Law Office, APC today to speak with a professional discrimination lawyer in Stockton.
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