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.