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HR Policy: EEOC Guidelines for Addressing Workplace Attire and Grooming

You have the best intentions. As an employer, you strive to follow fair hiring practices, accommodate employees’ special needs and foster a positive work environment. So when an employee’s religious beliefs affect his workplace attire and grooming, how can you address the issue professionally and legally? Today, your Nashville employment agency tackles this sensitive topic:

Start by knowing the law.

Religious dress and grooming are protected by Title VII. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prohibits you from discriminating, harassing or retaliating against job applicants and employees based on their religious beliefs and practices, including workplace attire and grooming.

Title VII requires you, as an employer, to reasonably accommodate any employee whose “sincerely held” religious beliefs, practices or observances conflict with a work requirement, unless providing that accommodation would create an “undue hardship.”

Use available compliance resources.

Recently, the EEOC published a question and answer sheet that provides guidance on religious dress and grooming, to make it easier to fulfill your legal responsibilities in this area. Here are a few key points from the guidelines:

What are some examples of protected religious dress and grooming?

  • wearing religious clothing or articles (e.g., a Muslim hijab (headscarf) or a Christian cross);
  • observing a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (e.g., 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)).

What aspects of religious practice or belief does Title VII protect?

Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief. It defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon or unaffiliated with a formal religious organization. Because the definition is so broad, an assertion that a belief or practice is “religious” is difficult to challenge.

Can you exclude someone from a position because of discriminatory customer preference?

No. If you take an action “based on the discriminatory religious preferences of others, including customers, clients, or co-workers,” you are unlawfully discriminating in employment based on religion. Your customers’ preferences are not a legitimate defense to a claim of discrimination.

How should you accommodate religious dress and grooming-related requests?

If an applicant or employee requests an accommodation for a “sincerely held religious belief, practice or observance” that conflicts with your dress and grooming policy:

  • You must make an exception to allow the religious practice, unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” (defined as more than de minimis cost or burden on the operation of your business).
  • You may accommodate the request by offering to have the employee cover the religious attire or item while at work, provided that the covering does not itself violate the employee’s religious beliefs.
  • You may bar the practice if it poses workplace safety, security or health concerns – provided that the practice actually poses an “undue hardship” on the operation of your business.

The bottom line? Educate your managers and employees about the EEOC’s guidelines. Train them to realize that Title VII may require them to make a religious exception to your company’s otherwise uniformly-applied, and facially neutral, dress or grooming rules/preferences.

As a leading Nashville employment agency, Wood Personnel stays on top of important workplace issues affecting your organization. We provide services and insights that make it safer and easier for you to run your business.