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An Inclusive United States: Religious Inclusion in the Federal Workplace

Man sitting at a desk reading the Bible.

The prohibition on religious discrimination in the workplace is firmly grounded to the taproot of our Nation: The United States Constitution. That inclusive doctrine exists to protect each of us.

During the U.S.’s tumultuous beginnings, our Nation was torn between including and excluding religion from our founding document. Ultimately, our Nation’s founders adopted the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion. It also prevents Congress from making laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Both prohibitions have been passed on to employers as workplace anti-discrimination laws, regulations, and policies.

Inclusion in the Federal Workplace

Prohibitions on religious discrimination apply to U.S. employers, including the Federal government.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 specifically address those prohibitions. They prohibit unlawful religious discrimination, including harassment, in the federal workplace.

They also prohibit creating a hostile work environment based on an employee’s religion or for not practicing a religion. Refer to this U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) case to learn what constitutes a hostile work environment.

Federal law and the EEOC explain ways employers cannot discriminate based on religion. That includes in compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. The EEOC has determined that an employee’s work environment is a term or condition of employment. Consequently, an Agency could expose itself to liability under Title VII if the work environment is hostile.

Required Religious Accommodations

Providing employees with religious accommodations is another opportunity for Federal agencies to be inclusive.

Agencies must provide religious accommodations to employees, including prospective and probationary employees.

A religious accommodation is an adjustment (including policies and procedures) to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion. Workplace accommodations and protections safeguard employment benefits and privileges from religious-based discrimination or retaliation for individuals from all religions, or of no religion.

Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion

A commitment to diversity and inclusion is a commitment to eradicate all forms of unlawful discrimination from our workplace.

The Federal government and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are attractive employers because, among other things, we embrace anti-discrimination laws that foster a diverse and inclusive workforce where we protect and accept individuals’ religious beliefs and differences.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) developed a Governmentwide Inclusive Diversity Strategic Plan that defines “diversity, inclusion, and inclusive diversity” in the federal workforce. The plan establishes goals to (1) diversify the federal workforce through active engagement of leadership; (2) include and engage everyone in the workplace; and (3) optimize inclusive diversity efforts using data-driven approaches.

Our country, at its foundation, is a Nation of religious diversity and acceptance. The NIH understands that equity, diversity, and inclusion are imperatives to allow NIH to achieve its goal of turning discovery into health.

Let us (across NIH) reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion and embrace OPM’s Governmentwide Inclusive Diversity Strategic Plan.

Resources and Guidance

In line with NIH’s commitment, we have the following resources available to assist NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices:

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