DOL seeks to “clarify” civil rights protections for religious organizations, but some fear it will increase discrimination against marginalized groups.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a proposed rule “to clarify the civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government.” The proposal, says a DOL news release, “would clarify that religious organizations may make employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets and beliefs without fear of sanction by the federal government.” However, many organizations have come out in opposition to the proposed rule, suggesting that it actually will undermine civil rights protections for LGBTQ and other groups.
The proposed rule expands current law to enable federal contractors that self-identify as religious to “prefer in employment individuals who share their religion” and “condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.”
According to the language in the proposed rule, OFCCP intends to use a broad definition of religion to include “all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice as understood by the employer. It is also consistent with Title VII case law holding that ‘the permission to employ persons of a particular religion’ includes permission to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employer’s religious precepts.’”
Some civil rights advocates, professional societies, and other organizations are concerned that, if enacted, this proposed rule would encourage and enable employers to discriminate against LGBTQ, non-religious, and non-Christian people. These groups, opponents of the rule say, are already marginalized. However, Acting DOL Secretary Patrick Pizzella insisted that the rule “helps to ensure the civil rights of religious employers are protected.”
Medicare- and/or Medicaid-certified post-acute and long-term care facilities would likely quality for the protections outlined in this proposed rule. However, it is important to keep an eye on this issue before taking any actions related to it; even if it is enacted, the rule is likely to face tough legal challenges.