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Will President Biden’s EEOC Be More Sabbath-Friendly?

Will President Biden’s EEOC Be More Sabbath-Friendly?

Barring any unexpected developments, January 20, 2021, will see the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware as President of the United States. Kamala Harris, a U.S. Senator from California, will also be sworn in as Vice President, the first woman and first person of color in that office.

Such a change in presidential administrations has generally happened every four or eight years since the days of George Washington, the country’s first president (former President Franklin D. Roosevelt being the notable exception, having served three terms). But unlike Washington’s era, the U.S. federal government today is a sprawling enterprise, an ocean of regulations that touches nearly every facet of daily life.

For those in the workforce, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a 55-year-old agency established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is of great importance. Its mandate is “[to enforce] federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, transgender status, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” These laws are, in general, enforced for employers with 15 or more employees and, in cases of age discrimination, 20 or more employees. They also “apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.”

“Undue Hardship” a Huge Loophole

In 1972, an amendment to Title VII was passed that required employers to “reasonably accommodate” religious observance except in circumstances that created “undue hardship” for the employer. “When Congress amended Title VII, it explicitly meant to protect employees of minority faiths,” noted The Wall Street Journal in an article nearly two years ago.

Sadly, within five years, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that just about any inconvenience in the workplace could be viewed as an “undue hardship.” Indeed, the high court’s 1977 ruling in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison set a precedent that actually seemed to do the opposite of what the amendment intended.

Gavel and Man Praying

In case after case, federal courts have taken the widest possible view of the definition of an “undue hardship,” most notably in a 2020 decision to not take up an appeal from Walgreens employee Darrell Patterson, who was fired for not working on the Sabbath. But, as this blog has previously noted, at least one justice on the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito, is open to revisiting the standard “when a petition in an appropriate case comes.”

What will happen to decisions involving Sabbath-keepers and those of other faiths in a Biden Administration EEOC? The world has been watching as the date looms for the transition to the new administration—and eyes are on the future of employment in particular. Here are some educated guesses that have been made by those who follow labor law.

No Immediate Changes?

First, while Biden as president can (and likely will) appoint a new chairman of the EEOC, major changes will most likely not be seen until the year 2022, if at all, given the majority of the commission’s members, appointed in recent years under President Trump, and the commission’s set Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP).

The Society of Human Resources Management, a trade group, quoted attorney Randy Coffey as saying, “The EEOC would have a host of expanded enforcement responsibilities added to its current scope of duties” under a Biden administration.

According to an article in human resources news hub Business Insurance, attorney Tiffany Brosnan “believes a national sick leave law will eventually be implemented”—no surprise given the current coronavirus pandemic.

Also in the SHRM report, attorney Paul Patten suggested “that the agency may focus more on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights.”

Attorney William J. Barath, writing at the Lexology blog, said a Biden-era EEOC might work toward “strengthening race and religion anti-harassment language in handbooks and policies.”

The EEOC is a fascinating animal. It has influence over an essential survival mechanism in this life: work. “In toil you shall eat of it [the ground] all the days of your life. … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17, 19); “in all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty,” says Proverbs 14:23. For the average human being, having a job is the means to food, shelter, security, and not only for oneself but for one’s family too.

As of now, the EEOC serves to preserve the religious liberty of Muslim, Jewish, and, yes, Sabbath-keeping employees. But the Bible tells us that the day will come when the state will enact the most blatant case of workplace religious discrimination of all time, so that only those who profess a certain faith will be able to “buy or sell” (Revelation 13:17). 

New laws in our earthly governments will be enacted in direct opposition to God’s laws, in particular challenging those seeking to honor the true Sabbath. There will come a “night … when no one can work” (John 9:4), save those who bear a certain mysterious “mark” (Revelation 13:17). To learn more about these final days, take a look at our article, “The Sabbath in Prophecy.”

And whatever happens with the next administration, remember that it is God, not the government, who is our Protector: “The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us” (Isaiah 33:22).

This article contributed by Mark A. Kellner
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