Question: When will employers and/or their trusted HR people and advisors learn the law about accommodation for religious beliefs? Answer: Only after they get sued.
We have harangued employers since we started our blog about the necessity of accommodating employees who are required by their religion to wear certain clothes or other adornments as long as this does not cause an undue hardship. See our blog dealing with the case of a Muslim employee who was required to wear a headscarf.
Our blog talked about a lawsuit filed by a Muslim hotel restaurant hostess at Disneyland claiming to have been fired after she refused to take off her headscarf, which allegedly “violated Disney’s ‘look’ policy.” We recalled a similar “look policy” which Abercrombie & Fitch promulgated to insure a unified “preppy” brand image but which resulted in an adverse jury verdict in favor of a job applicant who was denied hiring when she appeared for an interview wearing a headscarf.
Now, the EEOC has just announced a lawsuit against a North Carolina corporation that operates several Bojangles’ restaurants, alleging that it failed to accommodate a Muslim employee’s religious requirement that he wear a beard. The employee had been a practicing Muslim for 14 years, required by his religion to grow and maintain a beard without trimming or cutting it “unless it exceeds the length of his fist when holding his beard in his closed hand under his chin.”
He told the manager that he could not cut his beard for religious reasons, as the manager had asked, but was hired anyway — only to be fired the next day after a higher supervisor directed him to shave off his beard and refused his requested accommodation of wearing a “beard net,” which is similar to a hair net.
These numerous cases over the last few years have predictable outcomes – so why don’t employers get the message before they are sued?