A rule proposed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Enforcement Guidance on Harassment in the Workplace,” would govern the implementation of federal law on harassment and associated nondiscrimination policies.
However, the U.S. Catholic bishops and other religious organizations have argued that the way the rule defines “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” to include abortion could result in pro-life views leading to a harassment charge.
The proposed guidance on workplace harassment seeks to protect employees from harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age or genetic information, according to the Biden administration and the EEOC.
The rule, published for public inspection Oct. 2, states that “sex-based harassment” also includes harassment based on “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” which it defines as inclusive of “current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential pregnancy, lactation (including breastfeeding and pumping), use of birth control, menstruation, infertility and fertility treatments, endometriosis, miscarriage, stillbirth, or having or choosing not to have an abortion, among other conditions.”
EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a Sept. 29 statement announcing the proposed guidance that “preventing and addressing harassment in America’s workplaces has long been a key priority for the EEOC, and this guidance will provide clarity on new developments in the law and build on the Commission’s previous work.”
“The Commission looks forward to receiving public input on the proposed enforcement guidance,” Burrows said.
In an Oct. 27 letter to the EEOC, representatives of the bishops’ conference argued that “references to abortion in the harassment guidance are problematic and should be removed.”
“Opposition to abortion (including speech opposing abortion) is not sexual harassment because it is not based on sex,” the letter said.
“We encourage speech on abortion and other moral issues that is respectful, courteous, and constructive,” it said. “It is reasonable for employers and employees to insist upon civility and non-disruption in the workplace as a general matter. But on issues that involve no protected category, such as abortion, Title VII itself is silent and therefore has no role.”
In a message to its supporters, the USCCB urged the public to comment in opposition to the rule. The comment period was to close Nov. 1.
“It is good that we have laws prohibiting harassment in the workplace,” the bishops’ message said. “But speech expressing moral opposition to abortion, contraception, or same-sex unions, or speech that refers to people by their actual sex, is not harassment.”