Maybe it's because of all the Abercrombie & Fitch hijab cases last year, or maybe it was just the right time, but earlier this month the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued two publications regarding religious garb and grooming in the workplace, reports Mondaq.
On March 6, 2014, the EEOC issued "Fact Sheet on Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities" and a corresponding question-and-answer guide. While this is a must read for an in-house attorney working with a company that has employees (that's everyone), we thought we'd highlight some of the major takeaways for you.
Disparate Treatment -- No one may be discriminated against based on religious preferences, regardless of whether the preferences are those of "customers, clients, or co-workers."
Segregation -- For example, assigning an employee to a "non-customer contact position" does not a religious accommodation make.
Religious Accommodation -- Requiring religious garb to be covered is not an accommodation. Any non-accommodation based on "workplace safety, security, or health concerns" must "actually pose an undue hardship" on the business. Co-worker or customer attitudes do not constitute undue hardship. However, an "employer may still refuse to allow exceptions sought by other employees for secular reasons."
Retaliation -- An employer may not retaliate against an employee for requesting a religious accommodation, or pursuing other lawful actions related to the implementation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Harassment -- Need we even mention this one?
Remember, these guidelines are not law, but they do reflect the position of the EEOC, and give all counsel an idea as to the kinds of cases they will look to enforce. Make sure that all of your employee guidelines reflect the changes, and that all employees are adequately trained to execute company policy in conformance with the guidelines.
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