By Anne-Marie Storey, Esq.
The EEOC recently released a fact sheet providing some reminders of an employer’s obligations to accommodate religious expression under Title VII. Although these rules apply to employers covered by Title VII, a similar analysis must be made under the MHRA as well.
As a general rule, employers covered by Title VII must provide accommodation for religious dress and grooming practices even if those practices violate the employer’s dress code, as long as the religious belief or practice is sincerely held and does not cause an undue hardship. Some of the more common requests that may require accommodation include wearing religious clothing or articles, refusing to wear certain items, or maintaining certain grooming practices (such as allowing men to wear a beard). In addition to providing accommodation of these practices, Title VII forbids an employer from excluding an employee or applicant from any particular job because of religious preferences or personal disagreements of co-workers, customers, or clients. This means an employer may not assign an employee to a position that limits or prohibits customer contact because of the employee’s religious expression.
The fact sheet reiterates that an exception to the requirement of providing such accommodation might be made if the request would present a safety, security, or health concern but only if such concern would actually pose an undue hardship on the operation of the business, not just because the employer assumes that it might.
Decisions as to whether and how to accommodate a particular request should be made on a case by case basis. Managers who have decision making authority or input into such requests must be trained accordingly.
A question-and-answer guide with this and more information can be found at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_religious_garb_grooming.cfm.
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