The federal government is serious about combatting religious discrimination – serious enough to launch an interagency initiative designed to confront religious discrimination from pretty much every possible angle. The initiative’s stated goal is “to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination in employment and education, and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes”. Who exactly is involved in this initiative, what exactly does it entail, and what if anything can we infer it will mean for employers in general and federal government contractors in particular?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) appears to be spearheading this effort, but it is by no means alone. Joining the DOJ are the EEOC, the OFCCP (of course), the Departments of Education and Homeland Security, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI, Office of Justice Programs, Executive Office of US Attorneys and Community Relations Service. The initiative will, in the beginning be comprised of several roundtable discussions with community leaders and civil rights leaders to “identify key priorities”. In fact, the initiative is already underway, with the first roundtable discussion having already occurred on March 8 in Newark, NJ, which tackled bullying and religious discrimination in schools. You can find remarks made that day by the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta here.

Here are just a few other related topics to be addressed at subsequent roundtables:

  • preventing and prosecuting religion-based hate crimes targeting individuals and houses of worship in Dallas, Texas;
  • religious discrimination in employment in Birmingham, Alabama;
  • religious discrimination by local zoning officials against congregants seeking to build places of worship in Detroit, Michigan;
  • bullying and religious discrimination in schools in Palo Alto, California.
bq lquo…you can all but count on hearing about steps you will be expected to take – in effect more affirmative action – to combat religious discrimination in your workplace.bq rquo

What does this mean for employers in general and government contractors in particular? Given the joint involvement of multiple federal agencies, and given the involvement of both the EEOC and the OFCCP, you can expect to be hearing more about this initiative from both the EEOC and the OFCCP. When you add to that the particularly proactive OFCCP, you can all but count on hearing about steps you will be expected to take – in effect more affirmative action – to combat religious discrimination in your workplace. The OFCCP has shown a pattern in recent years of tailoring its Compliance Evaluations – and in particular the document requests that come in conjunction with them – to its stated priorities. You can therefore expect to see a change in the complexion of the OFCCP’s enforcement efforts and the documents you may be expected to produce if you are selected for a Compliance Evaluation.

7 Facts about Religious Discrimination*

  1. Since 2010, the EEOC has recovered approximately $4,000,000 (as well as important injunctive and other case-specific “make whole” relief) for victims of religious discrimination through its litigation program.
  2. Since 2010, religious-related lawsuits have involved workers in all segments and sectors of the workforce – e.g., in healthcare, social services, hospitality, retail, staffing, manufacturing, wholesale supply, energy, and food/beverage service, among others.
  3. Violations have involved a variety of fact patterns, including:
    1. Refusing to hire or firing religious workers after learning of their religion;
    2. Discharging workers who take leave for religious-related events (such as observing the Sabbath);
    3. Failing to accommodate religious-related garb choices;
    4. Retaliating against employees who requested a reasonable accommodation or complained about religious discrimination.
  4. Religious discrimination is unequal treatment of an individual or group based on their beliefs.
  5. In a four-year study of religious discrimination around the world (2006-2010), Christians were the most-discriminated against group, experiencing harassment by the government and society in 168 countries.
  6. Muslims make up the second largest religious population in the world and were discriminated against in 121 countries worldwide between 2006 and 2010.
  7. Jews make up less than 1% of the population, yet experience discrimination in 85 countries – the third most of any religious group.

What can and should you do to be prepared? As always, you should be reviewing your policies and procedures, your AAPs and the records you have already created and retained, and then start thinking about what other records you might need to create and retain in order to respond to the OFCCP’s likely actions in response to this initiative. As always, HR Unlimited, Inc. is here to help you with any of your questions, concerns or needs in this area.

For more information, contact Ahmed Younies at (714) 426-2918, ext. 1 or ayounies@hrunlimitedinc.com.

*Source: EEOC & DoSomething.org