The EEOC has just announced a new lawsuit on what has become a familiar topic – the alleged refusal of an employer, an Alabama nursing home, to accommodate a Muslim employee whose religious beliefs require her to wear a hijab, or head covering. These religious discrimination cases relating to appearance are now almost cookie cutter in their allegations – and yet employers do not seem to be listening or seeing.
EEOC’s Accusation Of Failure To Accommodate Religious Beliefs/Practices
The company in this new suit not only refused to accommodate plaintiff, but according to the EEOC, fired her after she filed an EEOC charge – which would be retaliation, claims the EEOC.
Various EEOC attorneys stated the obvious: “Businesses … must respect the religious practices of their employees and, when practical, accommodate those practices. “The EEOC will continue to target policies and practices that discourage or prohibit people from exercising their rights under employment discrimination statutes, or that impede the EEOC’s investigative or enforcement efforts.”
“Failure to accommodate religious dress and grooming remains a wide-spread problem. The EEOC recently issued a Question and Answer document and a fact sheet to guide employers and employees on this issue. This agency will remain vigilant to ensure that Americans of all faiths are free from discrimination in the workplace.”
The EEOC Guidance
We wrote on March 7th about the Question and Answer document referred to by the EEOC, above. “The EEOC has just published a report on “how federal employment discrimination law applies to religious dress and grooming practices, and what steps employers can take to meet their legal responsibilities in this area.”
We noted that “as if to underscore the need for such guidance,” the government just sued the Philly school district for requiring a Muslim police officer to trim his beard under a new grooming policy which requires school police officers not to have a beard longer than a quarter-inch. He claimed that his religion forbids this.
An EEOC spokesman said then: “No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living. Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer.” (United States of America v. School District of Philadelphia, case number 2:14-cv-01334, Eastern District of Pennsylvania).
In its guidance, the EEOC nicely sums up the examples that our readers are already familiar with:
“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 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)).”
The EEOC then gives a brief Q and A, illustrated by examples, that we exhort all employers to read, since you are bound to come across such cases — such as the one just filed by the EEOC.
The key to all of this for employers, in our opinion? Accommodation.
The EEOC’s View Of Accommodation
“Title VII requires an employer, once it is aware that a religious accommodation is needed, to accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Therefore, when an employer’s dress and grooming policy or preference conflicts with an employee’s known religious beliefs or practices, the employer must make an exception to allow the religious practice unless that would be an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.”
Go read it – now!