US: Labor Agency Says Religious Contractors Free From Bias Law

Federal contractors will get a clearer picture of religious defenses to workplace discrimination claims under a proposed rule the Labor Department announced today, senior DOL officials told Bloomberg Law.

The proposal would cement current exemptions that “religion-exercising organizations” can use to shield themselves from bias claims for hiring decisions and other actions motivated by religious belief. That includes religious entities as well as “closely held” companies acting in accordance with an owner’s religious beliefs, two senior DOL officials told Bloomberg Law before the rule’s release.

The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which polices federal anti-discrimination requirements for businesses and other organizations that work with the government, unveiled the proposal Aug.14. It will be published in the Aug. 15 Federal Register, according to an official DOL statement.

“The proposed rule is intended to clarify the longstanding civil rights protections afforded to religious organizations that contract with the federal government,” one official said. The proposal would ensure the “religious protections are given the same federal recognition as all other civil rights.”

Advocates Split

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals previously spoke out against the OFCCP’s stance on religious defenses for contractors after the agency published an August 2018 directive focused on religious freedom. Opponents of that directive said it potentially weaponizes religious freedom, while religious advocates welcomed the clarification. Read more via Bloomberg