Workplace Grooming Policies vs. the Civil Rights Act (Title VII)

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has been shinning a light on companies who are not making dress code accommodations for religious reasons.

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

The rules of Title VII are complex but it appears that the precedent is becoming no matter what your policy is on tattoos, piercings, long hair, head scarves, etc. may need to modify for protected groups, especially religious groups.

Recently an Oklahoma jury awarded $20,000 to an applicant of Abercrombie & Fitch (EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., Case No. 09-CV-602-GKF-FHM). She was denied employment when she appeared for the job interview wearing a headscarf. She is a devout Muslim and wears it for religious reasons. Abercrombie argued that they have a strict policy to insure their unified brand look. The Court disagreed.

Also, the EEOC took on a Taco Bell franchise owner, Family Foods, Inc., (EEOC v. Family Foods, Inc. d/b/a Taco Bell, Civil Action No. 5:11-cv-00394). The employee is a devout Nazirite and they do not cut their hair as a sign of their devotion to God. After six years of working for the company without cutting his hair he was terminated for not cutting his hair when asked to. They settled with the employee for $27,000 and agreed to modify their grooming policy to provide for religious accommodations.

The Lexology blog quoted an EEOC attorney as No person should be forced to choose between his religion and his job when the company can provide an accommodation without suffering hardship.

When evaluating at accommodations to make for your employees take some time to learn about the religion and what type of accommodations they are requesting then determine how hard it would be on your business to make the accommodation. Then consult your attorney.

This blog is not intended to be used as legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with a lawyer. Baric & Tran 949-468-1047

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