EEOC’s Updated Workplace Religious Dress Guidelines
An increasing number of religion-based workplace discrimination lawsuits have spurred the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission into action. The Commission has issued new guidelines on religious dress in the workplace, in deference to much confusion and misinterpretation of the current rules.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that retailer Abercrombie and Fitch wrongfully dismissed a female Muslim worker for wearing a headscarf in the workplace. The confusion about religious garb and what constitutes religious dress has led to several such lawsuits in recent years, and it is this propensity towards litigation that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wants to target.
The confusion about religious garb workplace and what constitutes religious dress, has led to several such lawsuits in recent years, and it is this propensity towards litigation that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wants to target. The guidelines define religion as not just the major organized religions, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that may not be included in this category, may be small and un-organized, or may only have a very small group of adherents.
The guidelines then focus on what constitutes religious garb under religious requirements. This could include the Christian cross, a Muslim headscarf, a Sikh turban, and even a Sikh miniature sword called a kirpan. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recognizes that all of these are protected religious dress and grooming practices. The guidelines also include religious prohibitions against the wearing of certain types of clothing. For instance, Muslim, and Orthodox Jewish women and persons belonging to certain Christian denominations could have a practice of wearing very modest clothing that excludes short skirts or pants. Men belonging to certain religions may have specific hair lengths to adhere to. For instance, the Sikhs wear their hair long and in turbans, and do not shave off their beards, while the Rastafarians wear their hair in dreadlocks and Orthodox Jews wear their side locks.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines also claim that it is the role of the employer to decide whether it will make any sort of exception to its current dress and grooming policies in the workplace to accommodate a particular job applicant. Employers are prevented from segregating employees in religious dress, such as assigning a salesperson in a head scarf to a position that does not entail contact with customers. The guidelines also encourage employers to make an accommodation in those cases where a worker has specifically asked for religious accommodation to adhere to a sincerely held religious practice, unless it would pose an undue hardship.
As the workforce becomes more diverse, issues involving women and men wearing particular types of religious garb are likely to become even more contentious, and the new guidelines are expected to help reduce the potential of conflict in such situations.