Must employers excuse workers with strong religious beliefs from respect-in-the-workplace training covering LGBT topics


After taking a few days off and rocking out in Seattle, I’m back to blogging about employment law.

Today, we pull back the curtain and reveal how the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will address failure-to-accommodate claims under the Supreme Court’s new religious accommodation standard established last year in Groff v. DeJoy.

InGroff, the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal workplace anti-discrimination law that requires employers to accommodate the sincerely held beliefs of employees absent undue hardship, requires an employer that denies a religious accommodation to show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantially increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.

In the EEOC decision I read last night, one issue was whether exempting an employee from a mandatory respect-in-the-workplace training course that covered members of the LGBTQI+ community, among others, would create an undue hardship for the employer.

(The EEOC also addressed whether training on LGBTQI+ would conflict with the employer’s sincerely held beliefs. But that’s not the focus of this post.)

TheSupreme Court and the EEOC have recognized that an employer can demonstrate undue hardship by establishing that a burden is substantial in the overall context of an employer’s business. While this analysis could focus on operating costs, it doesn’t have to. It could also focus on “the impact of the accommodation on the rights of other employees who are part of the business.”

For example, the EEOC recognizes that “an accommodation that interferes with the employer’s efforts to meet its other legal obligations under Title VII or other equal employment opportunity laws…would pose an undue hardship to provide religious exemptions from training on EEO laws and internal anti-discrimination policies because ‘an employer needs to make sure that its employees know about and comply with such laws and workplace rules.'”

The Groff decision backs the EEOC. “If bias or hostility to a religious practice or a religious accommodation provided a defense to a reasonable accommodation claim,” noted the Supreme Court, “Title VII would be at war with itself.”

Therefore, must an employer exempt an employee from respect-in-the-workplace training that may include an LGBTQI+ example — but does not require the individual to profess support for values that run contrary to their religious beliefs?

According to the EEOC, no, because granting an exemption from the training would pose an undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business insofar as the employer does not require the employee to affirmatively profess support for values contrary to their religious beliefs.

Generally, religious beliefs do not supersede training that promotes compliance with EEO laws and workplace standards of conduct.

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