The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued publications addressing workplace rights and responsibilities with respect to religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC issued a fact sheet outlining basic information about how Title VII applies to religious dress and grooming practices. The EEOC also issued “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities,” which provides questions and answers as well as hypotheticals related to religious dress and grooming that can assist employers in navigating these issues.
The EEOC explains that Title VII applies to all religious practices or beliefs that are “sincerely held.” A belief can be sincerely held even if it is recently adopted. Generally, an employer must accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the operation of the business. In addition, an employer cannot act based on the discriminatory religious preferences of others, including customers, clients, or co-workers. Thus, an employer cannot terminate an employee because a customer does not want to be served by an employee dressed in religious garb or attempt to segregate a religiously-dressed employee for fear that others will have a biased response.