Biden DOL Moves to Rescind Trump-Era Religious Exemption Rule

On March 23rd, 2021, Marty Walsh was sworn in as Secretary of Labor. On the same day, Mr. Walsh hit the ground running, delivering to the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) a proposal to rescind a controversial pending rule from the Trump administration that expanded discrimination liability protections for faith-based institutions that contract with the federal government. This proposed rule is in the final stage before an agency can release a proposed rule to the public. 

The religious exemption rule in question allowed religious federal contractors and sub-contractors to make employment decisions based on their faith. The Trump administration argued the rule provided necessary clarity for contractors about their obligations under Executive Order 11246— a civil rights mandate protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and other characteristics. 

The rule was intended to provide protections for religious organizations to “hire employees who will further their religious missions, thereby providing clarity that may expand the eligible pool of federal contractors and subcontractors.”  

The rule was met with controversy: it received over 109,000 comments during the month-long public comment period and attracted lawsuits from states and labor unions alike, which alleged the regulation weaponized religious freedom against LGBT workers  

Secretary Walsh’s action to dismantle Trump-era policies from day one may signal the beginning of an aggressive tenure at the Department of Labor (DOL), in which he and his colleagues aim to leave their mark on the department swiftly.

DCI will continue to watch Secretary Walsh’s actions on issues key to the Biden labor agenda, including implementing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 safety standards, administering pandemic emergency unemployment programs, and examining Trump administration policies on independent contractors and the gig economy. 

By Susanna Vogel, Associate Consultant

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