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Dress Code: Religion and Grooming

Originally posted by United Benefit Advisors (UBA)

As the workforce has become more diverse, and many people have differing religions, clothing restrictions, and appearance beliefs, it’s crucial for employers to accommodate these without discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a new publication addressing workplace responsibilities regarding religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Let’s take a look at discrimination based on religion. According to an article published in SHRM: Society for Human Resource Managementmagazine: In fiscal year 2013, the EEOC received 3,721 charges alleging religious discrimination — a number that has more than doubled since FY 1997, when 1,709 charges were filed.

If an employer is covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then the employer must allow employees to follow their religious beliefs, including appearance and grooming practices, unless it causes an undue hardship on the business.

A few examples of an undue hardship would be if the accommodation for religious beliefs:

  • Is unreasonably costly
  • Compromises safety, security, or health
  • Decreases efficiency or productivity
  • Infringes on the rights of other employees
  • Requires other employees to do more than their fair share of hazardous and/or burdensome work
There are many examples of how an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. A few of these include the following:

  • Adjustments to the work schedule for religious observances
  • Allowing the employee to wear head coverings or other religious dress
  • Allowing the employee to wear certain hairstyles or facial hair
  • Finding an alternate, acceptable apparel if there is a prohibition against wearing certain garments
It’s important to keep in mind that Title VII applies not only to “traditional,” religions or practices that are normally recognized, but it also applies to new and uncommon beliefs that may not even be part of a formal organization. As long as the belief is “sincerely held” by the individual, then the employer must accommodate him or her.

Furthermore, a business cannot discriminate because its customer base may not like a particular employee. This includes assigning that employee to a position that does not come into contact with customers such as a backroom job.

An employer, however, should not have to guess if an exception to its rules needs to be made for an employee. That is, when an employee needs a dress or grooming accommodation for religious reasons, it’s imperative that he or she notify the employer. If additional information is needed by the employer, it is perfectly acceptable to engage in a dialogue to discuss the request. Something to consider is that once an exception is made to an individual based on religion, an employer does not need to make the same exception to all its employees. The employer may still enforce its dress code and grooming rules and regulations on the other employees who do not share the same religious exemption.

The bottom line in all of this is that we, as a nation, are a very diverse culture and employers must recognize, embrace, and accommodate this diversity in order to get the most out of their employees in terms of productivity and workplace satisfaction. The benefits to both employer and employee far outweigh any minor inconvenience and will prove to be more valuable and advantageous in the long run.