On March 6, 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two new technical assistance publications addressing workplace rights and responsibilities with respect to religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In most instances, employers covered by Title VII must make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to follow religious dress and grooming practices. Employers are not required to make such exceptions if it would pose an undue hardship to the operation of an employer’s business. When an exception is made as a religious accommodation, the employer may still refuse to allow exceptions sought by other employees for secular reasons.

The EEOC issued a question-and-answer guide entitled, Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities, and an accompanying fact sheet. Courts are not bound by the EEOC’s guidance, but may take the EEOC’s view into consideration. Topics covered in the publications include:

  • Prohibitions on job segregation, such as assigning an employee to a non-customer service position because of his or her religious garb;
  • Accommodating religious grooming or garb practices while ensuring employer workplace needs;
  • Avoiding workplace harassment based on religion, in connection with religious dress or grooming practices; and
  • Ensuring there is no retaliation against employees who request religious accommodation.