Religious Accommodation and Dress and Grooming Policies
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), interprets and enforces Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination by employers against employees based upon race, color, gender, religion, sex, age, genetic information, or national origin.
Under Title VII, an employer or other covered entity is required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the operations of the employer’s business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment or schedule that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.
WHAT FALLS UNDER THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION REQUIREMENT
This reasonable accommodation requirement on employers applies not only to schedule changes or leave for religious observances, but also to such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons. These might include, for example, wearing particular head coverings or other religious dress (such as a Jewish yarmulke or a Muslim headscarf), or wearing certain hairstyles or facial hair (such as Rastafarian dreadlocks or Sikh uncut hair and beard). Such a request may also include an employee’s observance of a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (such as pants or miniskirts).
WHEN AN EMPLOYEE CAN SEEK A REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION
If an employer has a specific grooming policy which runs afoul to the religious beliefs or practices of an employee, an employee may seek a reasonable accommodation. When an employee or applicant needs a dress or grooming accommodation for religious reasons, they should notify the employer of that need. If the employer reasonably needs more information, the employer and the employee should engage in an interactive process to discuss the request. If it would not pose an undue hardship, the employer must grant the accommodation.
However, not all accommodation requests must be granted by an employer. An employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices if doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer. An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.
An employer must take seriously any and all requests by their employees regarding exemptions of any personal grooming or wardrobe polices as an employee may be deemed to have invoked their right to a reasonable accommodation with their request. When such a reasonable accommodation request has been made, the burden shifts to the employer to show that the employee is not eligible for such, or that the accommodation would be an undue hardship upon the employer.
If you are an employer and are faced with an employee claim of discrimination under Title VII, or are facing a claim under jurisdiction of the EEOC, contact the experienced employment law attorneys today at 203-221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com. We have the experience and knowledge you need at this critical juncture. We serve clients in both New York and Connecticut including New Canaan, Bridgeport, White Plains, and Darien.
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