EEOC Publishes Guidance on Employment Rights Related to Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace

by Poyner Spruill LLP
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On March 6, 2014, in an effort to answer questions about how federal employment discrimination law applies to religious dress and grooming practices, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a publication to help applicants, employees and employers understand the complex issues surrounding religious accommodations.  The publication addresses the EEOC’s position on how Tile VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) applies to employers, and what exceptions to their usual rules and preferences they must make in regard to applicants’ and employees’ observation of their religious dress and grooming practices.  The publication is available on the EEOC’s website and is entitled Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities.

The publication is intended to serve as a reminder that employers, who are covered under Title VII, are required to make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to allow applicants and employees to adhere to dress and grooming practices required by their religion.  The employer is not required, however, to make an accommodation if it will prove to be an undue hardship on its business.  The newly issued publication contains not only a general discussion of the requirements under Title VII for religious accommodation, but it also contains answers to questions about such topics as:

  • Can an employer exclude someone from a position because of discriminatory customer preference?
  • May an employer assign an employee to a non-customer contact position because of customer preference?
  • 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?

Although the EEOC’s positions on these issues are not binding law, the publication does give guidance in regard to the EEOC’s views.  The inclusion of questions and answers in the publication should prove helpful to employers, which are facing the same or similar situations.  Prudent employers should educate managers in regard to religious accommodations mandated by Title VII and consult with legal counsel when these issues arise.

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.

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