Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. This law applies to employers with 15 or more employees in both the public and private sectors. However, there are some exceptions, including an exemption that allows religious organizations that receive federal contracts to make hiring decisions based on religion. Now, the Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed a new rule that will expand this religious exemption policy even further.
What Is the Current Religious Exemption Policy?
Currently, religious non-profit organizations that receive federal contracts are not required to comply with religious discrimination laws. This exemption was established to ensure that religious organizations such as churches and schools could choose to only hire people who shared the organization’s religious beliefs.
For example, a Catholic non-profit organization with a federal contract may choose to only hire people who practice Catholicism. This would typically be considered religious discrimination, but it is legal because the organization is covered by the religious exemption.
What Changes Have Been Proposed?
The DOL has proposed changes that would expand the religious exemption so more organizations with federal contracts would qualify. The proposal states that the religious exemption should cover all federal contractors that have a religious purpose and practice religion in order to advance their purpose. Furthermore, the expansion of the exemption would cover both non-profit and for-profit organizations with federal contracts.
The changes could affect many workers. For example, if the changes go into effect, many employers with federal contracts could claim that their religion prohibits them from hiring members of the LGBT community, women, or other protected classes. If the employer is covered by the religious exemption, they would not face legal consequences for these discriminatory hiring practices.
What Happens Next?
The proposed changes have not gone into effect yet. Last month, the DOL announced that members of the public would have 30 days to provide feedback on the proposed changes. This 30-day window recently closed, so the DOL must decide whether or not to move forward with the changes. But for now, the law has not changed regarding the religious exemption for federal contractors.
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