On March 6, 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued two new technical assistance publications addressing workplace rights and responsibilities with respect to religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC published a question-and-answer guide and an accompanying fact sheet describing variations employers must allow from dress codes for religious reasons. The guidance reminds employers that they must grant employee requests for reasonable accommodations due to sincerely-held religious beliefs. An accommodation is not reasonable if it imposes an undue burden upon the employer, which means that it imposes anything more than a de minimis cost. (In the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “undue burden” is a higher standard for employers to meet.)
Many types of costs, however, cannot be used by employers to meet this undue burden test. These include the “costs” imposed by negative perceptions of co-workers and customers. For example, customer preference does not justify denying an employee request to wear religious apparel, such as a hijab, or headscarf worn by Muslim women. Employees with religious apparel or grooming cannot be moved away from customer service positions to avoid negative customer reactions or loss of business.
May Law attorneys can help employers with questions about enforcing terms of their dress code or responding to employee requests for religious accommodations.