This is the sixth blawg in a series that we began in an effort to summarily highlight how the EEOC?s stated objectives have been manifested since being outlined in the Strategic Enforcement Guidelines issued in January of 2013.?? As noted previously, one of the primary issues that the EEOC identified as needing attention was ?Protecting Vulnerable Workers?. On this issue, the EEOC has issued Guidelines for accommodating religious dress and grooming in the workplace as follows:
On March 6, 2014, the EEOC 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 question-and-answer guide, entitled “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities,” and an accompanying fact sheet, is intended to offer practical advice for employers and employees, and presents numerous case examples based on the EEOC’s litigation.
Examples of religious dress and grooming practices include wearing religious clothing or articles (e.g., a Muslim hijab (headscarf), a Sikh turban, or a Christian cross); observing a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (e.g., a Muslim, Pentecostal Christian, or an Orthodox Jewish woman’s practice of not wearing pants or short skirts), or adhering to shaving or hair length observances (e.g., Sikh uncut hair and beard, Rastafarian dreadlocks, or Jewish peyes (sidelocks)).
Employers covered by Title VII must accommodate exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow religiously-mandated dress and grooming practices unless it would pose an undue hardship to the operation of an employer’s business. When an exception is made as a religious accommodation, the employer may still refuse to allow exceptions sought by other employees for secular reasons. Topics covered in the publications include:
- Prohibitions on job segregation, such as assigning an employee to a non-customer service position because of his or her religious garb;
- Accommodating religious grooming or garb practices while ensuring employer workplace needs;
- Avoiding workplace harassment based on religion, which may occur when an employee is required or coerced to forgo religious dress or grooming practices as a condition of employment; and
- Ensuring there is no retaliation against employees who request religious accommodation.
What are the major points that employers should note from the EEOC?s most recent take on religious discrimination?? They are as follows:
- An employer cannot justify a refusal to accommodate based on its belief that the employee?s religious beliefs are not ?sincere.?
- Employer must show actual ?undue hardship? and not speculative hardship.
- Customer complaints or preference is not a defense for failure to accommodate.
There has been a steady rise over the past few years in the number of religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC, and the agency has brought more religious discrimination lawsuits.