EEOC Issues New Guidance on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace

by Proskauer Rose LLP

On March 6, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") released a new question-and-answer guide and accompanying fact sheet on religious dress and grooming in the workplace, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC indicates that religious discrimination charges have increased steadily, so the agency is attempting to improve employer awareness and compliance.

The guide answers sample employers' questions about how federal employment discrimination law applies to religious dress and grooming practices, and gives employers advice on what steps to take to meet their legal obligations in this area. While the guide does not create any new obligations, it does attempt to clarify several important and complex issues regarding how Title VII applies to issues of religion in the workplace including, among others:

  • The basics of the application of Title VII to religious dress and grooming in the workplace;

  • What it means for a religious practice to be "sincerely held";

  • What an employer should do if an applicant or employee's religious garb violates an employer's appearance policy or dress code;

  • Examples of appropriate accommodations for an employee's religious dress or grooming practice;

  • What constitutes retaliation against an employee for requesting a religious accommodation; and

  • What constitutes religious harassment under Title VII, and what obligations an employer has to stop it.

The question-and-answer guide includes illustrative examples for each question, and provides a list of other resources for employers related to the topic of religious accommodation. This client alert summarizes the key aspects of the question-and-answer guide.

I. Employer Guide at a Glance

The guide outlines practices prohibited by Title VII with respect to religion in the workplace, including disparate treatment based on religion in any aspect of employment, denial of reasonable accommodation for sincerely held religious beliefs (unless it would cause an undue hardship for the employer), workplace or job segregation based on religion, workplace harassment based on religion, and retaliation for requesting an accommodation. Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief, and defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that may seem illogical or unreasonable to others. Title VII applies to any practice motivated by religious belief, even if other people may engage in the same practice for secular reasons. If an employer questions whether an employee's belief is sincerely held, and an accommodation has been requested, it may ask for information reasonably needed to evaluate the request. However, the sincerity of an employee's stated religious belief is not usually in dispute in religious discrimination cases according to the EEOC guidance.

The guide continues by answering questions related to actions that an employer may or may not take in response to an employee's religious dress or grooming practices. It explains that employers may not take action against an employee based on the discriminatory religious preferences of others, including customers, clients, or co-workers. It also explains that employers may not assign employees to non-customer contact positions because of customer preference. Additionally, it explains that employers may not automatically refuse to accommodate an applicant's religious garb or grooming practice, even if it violates the employer's appearance or dress policy. Rather, the employer must make an exception to allow the religious practice unless it would be an undue hardship.

The guide then discusses various types of reasonable accommodations, such as covering the religious attire or item at work if permitted by the religious belief. It indicates that in some instances, an employer's reliance on a company's "image" or marketing strategy to deny a requested religious accommodation may be insufficient to demonstrate that making an exception would be an undue hardship. It makes clear, however, that an employer may bar an employee's religious dress or grooming practice based on workplace safety, security, health concerns, or if the practice actually poses an undue hardship on the operation of the business.

Finally, the guide discusses Title VII's prohibition on retaliation and harassment in the context of protected religious activity, including requesting religious accommodation, or opposing an allegedly discriminatory practice.

II. What Does This Mean for Employers?

Although the guide creates no new obligations, it illustrates the complexity of an employer's obligation to respect, and at times accommodate, its employees' religious beliefs or practices. It also signals the EEOC's commitment to vigorously enforcing Title VII's prohibition on religious discrimination. To reduce the risk of religious discrimination claims, employers should consider the following pro-active steps:

  • Articulate a commitment to providing reasonable accommodations, and carefully evaluate when a religious accommodation would or would not be an undue hardship;

  • Have a process in place for addressing religious accommodation requests;

  • Publicize and apply an anti-harassment policy that clearly explains what is prohibited, and provides avenues for complaints to management; and

  • Take note of any applicable state or local laws addressing religious discrimination and harassment, which may be broader than required by federal law. For example, the New York City Workplace Religious Freedom Act [see our client alert of August 31, 2011] is more protective of employee rights requiring affirmative religious accommodation obligations from covered employers.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Proskauer Rose LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Proskauer Rose LLP

Proskauer Rose LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.