The United States Department of Justice and the School District of Philadelphia reached a settlement to get out of a hairy situation this week. The school district had a rule dating back to 2010 that required district police officers to keep beards no longer than a quarter inch.  An officer filed a complaint with the EEOC after being reprimanded for refusing to trim his beard based on his Islamic faith.  The EEOC investigated and referred the matter to the DOJ, which filed suit earlier this year, alleging religious discrimination.  The parties were able to cut the litigation short by reaching agreement.

The school district’s new policy will require individual review of requests for religious accommodation and engage in an interactive process with an employee before ruling on the request.  I guess you can say “big wigs” cannot say no unless they “mullet over” first.

“Comb On” – surely this doesn’t apply to private employers?

While it is true that the school district case was brought under a civil rights analysis that limits only what a governmental employer can and cannot do, Title VII applies to public and private employers and expressly prohibits religious discrimination.[1]

To shave legal costs and handle this right every time, all employers must (1) ensure that all employees are trained on the right to request religious accommodations and (2) empower supervisors or HR to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine what accommodations do not pose an undue hardship.

A “Heads’ Up” about “Movember”[2]

Like it or knot, religious accommodation is required.  But accommodation for other reasons, even for a good cause such as men’s health, is something you can “brush off.”  Prohibiting distracting hair growth is okay if the reason for the growth is not one of the protected reasons, such as religion.

“Parting” Comments

Sincerely held religious beliefs must be accommodated if doing so does not cause an undue hardship in the workplace.  Just because you might dislike facial hair (or think it poses a safety hazard), give it a chance as it might “grow” on you (and the facts might show no harm).  If you have questions, call your favorite lawyer, as s/he really knows how to “split hairs!”