EEOC Plans Religious Discrimination Compliance Update

HR & Safety

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is updating its compliance manual section on religious discrimination and is seeking public input.

Federal law prevents employers from treating an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs, such as for wearing religious attire at work.

The EEOC recent voted to update its guidance to describe how Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects individuals from religious discrimination in the workplace and details the legal protections available to religious employers.

The new proposed enforcement guidance focuses on four areas:

  • Coverage issues, including the types of cases that arise, the definition of “religion” and “sincerely held,” the religious organization exemption, and the ministerial exception
  • Employment decisions based on religion, including recruitment, hiring, segregation, promotion, discipline, and compensation, as well as differential treatment with respect to religious expression; customer preference; security requirements; and bona fide occupational qualifications
  • Harassment, including religious belief or practice as a condition of employment or advancement, hostile work environment, and employer liability issues
  • Reasonable accommodation, including notice of the conflict between religion and work where applicable, scope of the accommodation requirement and undue hardship defense, and common methods of accommodation

Discrimination Complaints

“As the agency responsible for enforcing Title VII, it is imperative that we stay at the forefront of these issues to ensure compliance with the law,” EEOC chair Janet Dhillon said after the commission recently voted to publish the updated manual for comment.

Although religious discrimination complaints make up a small percentage of the overall complaints the EEOC receives, the proposed guidance notes that “the number of religious discrimination charges filed with EEOC has increased significantly from 1997 to 2019.”

The commission received 1,709 religious complaints in 1997.

The numbers of religious complaints continued to grow in the ensuing years, reaching 2,127 in 2001 and 3,273 in 2008 before peaking at 4,151 in 2011.

There were 2,725 religious complaints in 2019, the last year for which figures are available.

The commission finds that the majority of those complaints have no reasonable cause.

For example, 59% of complaints were found to lack reasonable cause in 1997. That grew to 63% in 2002 before reaching a high of 75% in 2017.


The commission found in 2019 that 72% of the cases had no reasonable cause.

From 1997 to 2019, the percentage of complaints found to have reasonable cause have ranged from a low of 3% in 2017 to a high of 10% in 2001.

Administrative enforcement totals over that period went from a low of $2.2 million in 1997 to a high of $14.1 million in 2001.

The 2019 figure was $9.9 million. Those amounts do not include settlements and awards from litigation.

The deadline to submit comments on the proposed update is Dec. 17.

The public may submit comments electronically or mail hard copies to Public Input, EEOC, Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C., 20507.

The input provided will be posted publicly and may show email addresses. Do not include personal information that you would not like published.


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