On March 6, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
released additional guidance on religious accommodations under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), with a
special focus on issues of religious garb and grooming in the
workplace. The guidance reminds employers that in most
circumstances Title VII requires employers to make exceptions to
their usual workplace policies to permit applicants and employees
to observe their religious dress and religious grooming practices.
Employers must consider accommodating an employee's request to
wear religious garb or engage in religious grooming practices
unless the accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship.
Furthermore, the EEOC considers undue hardship as a "more than
de minimis" cost or burden on the employer.
The EEOC guidance specifically provides the following:
Title VII requires employers to
accommodate an employee's religious dress or grooming custom,
even if it is inconsistent with dress codes or appearance
guidelines established by the employer.
Preferences of customers or co-workers are
not valid reasons to refuse a religious accommodation request nor
are they a defense to a religious discrimination claim.
Employers may not assign an employee to a
non-customer contact position because the employer fears that its
customers will be uncomfortable with the employee's religious
An applicant or employee is not required
to use any "magic words" to make an accommodation
request. For example, if a new employee tells his employer that he
wears a beard for religious reasons, that alone is sufficient to
trigger the accommodation request.
In most situations, an employer cannot
rely on its marketing image to deny an accommodation relating to
religious clothing or religious grooming practices.
Employers may refuse to accommodate an
employee's religious attire or grooming practice based on
workplace safety, security or health reasons, but only if the
requested accommodation poses an undue hardship to the business
It is unlawful to retaliate against any
employee who has made a religious accommodation request, because
such a request is protected activity under Title VII.
Employers should review their workplace policies, especially
regarding grooming and dress, to ensure they take into
consideration these new EEOC guidelines and to ensure that their
employees are properly trained on them. While the guidelines are
not "law," they provide an outline of what the EEOC's
position will be on these issues when it investigates allegations
of religious discrimination.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Companies must train front-line managers to be on the lookout for signs that an employee might need a job accommodation because workers who want help when a medical issue hinders their job performance don't always clearly ask for it.
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