Religious discrimination charges have more than doubled since 1997, totaling 3,721 charges in fiscal year 2013. There have been several recent court decisions, most notably last December's decision finding Abercrombie & Fitch liable for religious discrimination for firing an employee who wore a hijab. The company had unsuccessfully argued that the employee's dress violated their "Look Policy," or company-wide dress code.
Recently, the The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued two new technical assistance publications addressing workplace rights and responsibilities with respect to religious dress and grooming.
According to EEOC:
Employers covered by Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964] must make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow religiously-mandated dress and grooming practices unless it would pose an undue hardship to the operation of an employer's business. When an exception is made as a religious accommodation, the employer may still refuse to allow exceptions sought by other employees for secular reasons.
In addition to the press release - EEOC Issues New Publications on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace - EEOC has issued Guides to assist employers and employees:
Fact Sheet on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities
A more in-depth question & Answer guide that is based on case law and that includes a more detailed discussion, as well as other resources can be found in this EEOC issue guide: Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities
The guide addresses the following topics and questions.
1. What is the federal law relating to religious dress and grooming in the workplace?
2. Does Title VII apply to all aspects of religious practice or belief?
3. Does the law apply to dress or grooming practices that are religious for an applicant or employee, even if other people engage in the same practice for non-religious reasons?
4. What if an employer questions whether the applicant's or employee's asserted religious practice is sincerely held?
5. Can an employer exclude someone from a position because of discriminatory customer preference?
6. May an employer automatically refuse to accommodate an applicant's or employee's religious garb or grooming practice if it would violate the employer's policy or preference regarding how employees should look?
7. How will an employer know when it must consider making an exception to its dress and grooming policies or preferences to accommodate the religious practices of an applicant or employee?
8. May an employer assign an employee to a non-customer contact position because of customer preference?
9. May an employer accommodate an employee's religious dress or grooming practice by offering to have the employee cover the religious attire or item while at work?
10. May an employer deny accommodation of an employee's religious dress or grooming practice based on the "image" that it seeks to convey to its customers?
11. Do government agencies whose employees work with the public have to make exceptions to uniform policies or otherwise allow religious dress and grooming practices if doing so would not cause an undue hardship?
12. May an employer bar an employee's religious dress or grooming practice based on workplace safety, security, or health concerns?
13. Are applicants and employees who request religious accommodation protected from retaliation?
14. What constitutes religious harassment under Title VII, and what obligation does an employer have to stop it?
15. What should an applicant or employee do if he believes he has experienced religious discrimination?
16. Where can employers and employees obtain more information?
Employment Law commentary
When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program
give us a call: 800-535-4841.