EEOC Releases Guidelines for Religious Dress and Grooming in the Workplace

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination.

On March 6, 2014, the EEOC released a “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities” guideline that all employers, managers, and supervisors should review.  The EEOC reports that it received 3,721 charges alleging religious discrimination in 2013, more than double the 1,709 charges received in 1997.

The EEOC cites the following examples as religious garb and grooming practices:

  • Wearing religious clothing or articles (e.g., a Muslim hijab (headscarf), a Sikh turban, or a Christian cross);
  • Observing a religious practice against wearing certain garments (e.g., Muslim, Pentecostal Christian, or Orthodox Jewish woman’s practice of not wearing pants or short skirts); and
  • Adhering to shaving or hair length observances (e.g., Sikh uncut hair and beard, Jewish peyes (side locks), or Rastafarian’s dreadlocks).

The EEOC emphasizes that employers are required to make exceptions to allow employees who request religious accommodations, unless doing so presents actual undue hardship to the operation of the business.  Co-worker disapproval, customer preferences, or simply assuming the accommodation would pose a problem does not constitute undue hardship.  If work conditions pose an actual undue hardship on the operation of the business, such as workplace safety, security, or health concerns, employees’ religious dress or grooming practices do not need to be accommodated.

The EEOC also reports that employers must avoid workplace harassment, retaliation, or job segregation for those employees’ who request religious accommodations.

It is advisable for employers to make a case-by-case determination of all religious accommodation requests.  A copy of the EEOC’s “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities,” guideline and factsheet are available here.

Jim Acho, a senior attorney in our Livonia office, concentrates his practice on employment, commercial, and personal injury law. He can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or jacho@cmda-law.com.

Creativity, 3D Printing and the Law

The marketplace for handmade and unique items is expanding thanks to websites like Etsy, eBay, and Pinterest.  These sites allow crafty entrepreneurs to reach a large network of consumers at a very low cost.  The use of 3D printers is becoming increasingly popular and has the potential to expand the marketplace for handmade and unique items even further.  Previously only available to large-scale producers, 3D printers are becoming more economical and provide artists and entrepreneurs with another tool to create their work.

As some entrepreneurs have already figured out, 3D printing brings its own set of special legal challenges. One such entrepreneur is Fernando Sosa, who operates a custom 3-D printing business.  Sosa offers to make models, prototypes and replicas of new products on his website, nuPROTO.com.  Sosa also sells original items.  One original item in particular got Sosa into some trouble with cable network HBO.  Using a 3D printer, Sosa designed, produced, and sold a cellphone charging station in the form of a throne based on HBO’s popular series “Game of Thrones.”

Sosa received a cease-and-desist letter from HBO, requesting that he stop selling the item because it was the intellectual property of HBO and Sosa did not have a license to sell it.  Sosa, unable to acquire a license, has since had to issue refunds for the thrones already sold and discontinue the item on his website.

Sosa’s story is just one example of the challenges that accompany this new, exciting technology. Artists and entrepreneurs need to be vigilant to ensure their work is protected, if possible, and not infringing on any existing rights, licenses or laws.

Kali Lester, an attorney in our Livonia office, concentrates her practice on municipal law, utility law and appellate law.  She can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or klester@cmda-law.com.

E-3 Visas: An Alternative to the H-1B Lottery

Both the H-1B visa and the E-3 visa allow U.S. businesses to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations, however the differences between the two are important for employers to understand.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) place a cap on available H-1B visas at 65,000.  Within five days from the start of the filing period, USCIS received 124,000 petitions.  A lottery determined which petitions were selected, subject to few exemptions.  With an astonishing 59,000 petitions not selected, the question for employers becomes, “Are you forced to leave your available position up to a lottery?”  The work your company does is important, and your employees are the driving force behind your product or service.  Nothing should be left to a lottery, least of all your employees.

Additional options are available to employers, and the E-3 visa is just one example.  The E-3 visa is a specialty occupation visa only available to Australian citizens.  A specialty occupation is one that, “requires theoretical and practical application of a body of knowledge in professional fields and at least the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent, as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”  -INA 214(i)(1).

Employers benefit from the E-3 visa because nothing needs to be filed with USCIS, and the $3,000 in fees that the H-1B visa requires does not apply.  Furthermore, the E-3 visa program is open to all businesses, not just Australian-owned or -operated companies, which is different from other E-Visas.  An employer must still submit a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor, ensuring a prevailing wage for the Australian worker.  E-3 visas are valid for two years, and there is no limit to the number of times it may be renewed.

Employers who are looking for specialty labor, and prefer not to play the odds, should consider an E-3 visa.

Sara Lowry, an attorney in our Livonia office, concentrates her practice on municipal law, litigation, and immigration law.  She can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or slowry@cmda-law.com.