EEOC Issues Guidelines to Employers on Accommodating Religious Dress in Workplace
As attendees of our recent employment breakfasts know, reports of religious discrimination in the workplace continue to climb. One of the most frequent sources of questions we face deal with accommodating religious dress. The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has just released informal guidelines to assist employers in meeting their legal obligations entitled Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities. In short, the EEOC emphasizes that the employer must make some reasonable exceptions to their usual rules and preferences in order to allow employees and applicants to observe religious dress and grooming. Some examples: a Muslin Hajib; a faith based prohibition against women wearing pants; a Sikh uncut hair or beard. Accommodations are not required if it causes undue hardship. However, an adverse customer reaction, or the desire to present a certain image as part of a marketing strategy do not cause undue hardship to the employer.
Employers with concerns regarding the need to accommodate the religious practices of employees or applicants should consult the EEOC guidelines or with counsel familiar with religious discrimination law and employers are advised to regularly update their handbooks to reflect changes in employment laws.