EEOC Pushes Through Harmful Updates to Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination
January 19, 2021 (Washington, DC) — On Friday, January 15, in a vote that occurred after the commissioners issued a statement saying their meeting that afternoon had been canceled, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) pushed through a revised version of the Compliance Manual Section on Religious Discrimination by a 3-2 margin.
“We are disappointed that three of the five EEOC commissioners, including the chairwoman, insisted on advancing this change in the final days of the Trump Administration despite the guidance it provides being at once harmful and outdated,” said Amrith Kaur, Sikh Coalition Legal Director. “While a handful of issues specific to the Sikh American community are now reflected in the manual, we remain concerned on behalf of our and other communities that the prevailing bias in favor of conservative Christian viewpoints will produce more, rather than less, religious discrimination in the long run.”
This revised set of guidance will likely have serious consequences for religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, and many other Americans. As a reminder, this manual provides guidance to employees, employers, and EEOC investigators regarding the application of anti-discrimination law. Per the government, guidance manuals such as this may be viewed as carrying “the implicit threat of enforcement action if the regulated public does not comply.”
In a statement released Friday evening, Commissioners Jocelyn Samuels and Charlotte A. Burrows said that the new manual “does not always strike the proper balance” between religious freedom and equal treatment under the law. In explaining their vote against approval, they argued that “by rushing to issue this guidance without sufficient public input, the Commission has failed to do its best work” and affirmed that “our stakeholders, and the public, deserve better.”
When the manual proposal was announced in November of 2020, neither the Sikh Coalition nor our partners in the broader civil rights movement had been consulted; the EEOC offered only a 30 day public comment period to review the proposal, as opposed to the multi-year process for the last version. They also failed to take into account emerging religious discrimination issues in employment law as a result of PPE required during the COVID-19 pandemic, and seminal cases on religious accommodation standards in the workplace currently under review by the Supreme Court. In order to make our voices heard, we organized a sign-on letter with 50 other organizations calling for a halt in this process, submitted our own public comment, and held meetings with Commissioners Samuels and Burrows, the only Commissioners who agreed to meet with us. (The three commissioners who pushed forward this vote–Chair Janet Dhillon, Vice Chair Keith E. Sounderling, and Commissioner Andrea R. Lucas–were unresponsive to our requests despite the numerous concerns cited in public comments and a letter we set earlier in the week requesting a meeting prior to the vote.)
Despite the consistently opaque behavior of the EEOC, the Sikh Coalition continues to learn more about this process and will provide further updates. In the meantime, we urge the suspension of the new manual’s implementation until a new draft can be compiled in cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders.
For 20 years, the Sikh Coalition has fought for the rights of Sikhs and all other Americans to be free of discrimination in the workplace, through both advocacy around state and federal policies as well as pro bono legal support. For more information about this work, please contact Graham West and Rajanpreet Kaur.