On March 6, 2014, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued two technical assistance publications about employers' responsibilities with respect to religious dress and grooming in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the new publications, employers covered under Title VII must permit employees to follow religiously mandated dress and grooming practices unless it would pose an undue hardship on the business.
Pursuant to the publication, employers must provide reasonable accommodation to an employee when the employer is put on notice that a religious accommodation is necessary for a sincere religious belief. It would not be considered a reasonable accommodation to have the employee cover or hide the religious article if that would violate the employees' religious beliefs. However, when an exception to the dress code is made for a religious accommodation, the employer may still refuse to allow secular exceptions sought by other employees. Additionally, if a religious accommodation creates an undue hardship on business operations, the employer is not required to provide any accommodation.
An undue hardship is defined as "more than de minimis" burden on the operation of the employer's business. For instance, if a religious accommodation would impose more than ordinary administrative costs, it would pose an undue hardship. This is a lower standard than the undue hardship defense to disability accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, neither co-worker disgruntlement nor customer preference is sufficient to establish an undue hardship.
Employers are advised to make case-by-case determinations of any requested religious accommodations and to train managers appropriately in order to properly adhere to all Title VII requirements.
For more information about this and other reasonable accommodation issues, contact an attorney at CGWG.