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SENATE URGES EEOC TO EXCLUDE RELIGION FROM HARASSMENT RULES

SHARE SENATE URGES EEOC TO EXCLUDE RELIGION FROM HARASSMENT RULES

The Senate is urging the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to drop religion from proposed guidelines on unlawful harassment in the workplace.

In a 94-0 vote Thursday night, the Senate approved a resolution asking the agency to remove religion from the regulations proposed last year to define what constitutes workplace harassment.The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala., and Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., also asks the EEOC to make it clear in any new guidelines on workplace harassment that religious symbols or expressions of religious beliefs are not restricted and cannot be used to prove harassment.

The proposed guidelines sparked heated protests from religions and business groups after they were proposed by the EEOC last fall. The agency received nearly 100,000 comments before the formal period of public comment ended Monday.

As originally drafted, the guidelines define unlawful harassment as any verbal or physical conduct that "denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his-her . . . religion . . . or that of his-her relatives, friends or associates."

Heflin said that language would require that employers know their workers well enough so they wouldn't say or do anything that would "harass the third cousin of an employee."

With language that vague and indefinite, Heflin said, employers seeking to protect themselves from lawsuits would end up prohibiting all forms of religious expression in the workplace, including the wearing of a cross or a yarmulke.

The former Alabama chief justice said the EEOC should develop guidelines that will "set forth in some detail what is and is not religious harassment on the job."