Employer-imposed restrictions on clothing worn by employees is not a novel idea. Appropriate dress is a very common requirement for nearly every job you can imagine. In most cases, professional, modest attire is required. So, why would an employee be terminated for wearing a symbol of modesty?
Fired for wearing a symbol of modesty
In a recent case filed by the EEOC, a certified nursing assistant at Shadescrest Healthcare facility in Jasper, Alabama, was denied her right to wear, what is known in her religion as a "hijab." This type of clothing, which is typically a veil or headscarf, is worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty. She complained about the refusal to accommodate her sincerely held religious belief and filed an EEOC charge. She was later fired, as she alleges, in retaliation for opposing religious discrimination in the workplace.
Title VII's accommodation requirements
Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination statute, protects against more than just discrimination based on race or gender. Religious beliefs are also protected, and employers are required to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs of its employees, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the employer's business. In other words, an employer is required to make reasonable adjustments in order to allow an employee to practice his or her religion.
Examples of religious accommodations
Some common examples of reasonable accommodations in the religious context include providing a flexible work schedule that allows employees to leave early on Sabbath days. Other common accommodations include grooming, such as facial hair.
Religious discrimination complaints on the rise
According to the EEOC, the number of workplace religious discrimination charges is continuing to rise. With respect to religious attire specifically, the EEOC has recently set forth new guidance, stating that:
in most instances, employers are required by federal law to make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to observe religious dress and grooming practices.
Consequently, the EEOC has indicated that it will continue to target employer policies and practices that discourage, or even prohibit, employees from exercising their religious rights. Nevertheless, failure to accommodate religious dress and grooming practices continues to be a growing issue.
Other types of prohibited religious discrimination
In addition to denying religious accommodations, federal law also prohibits other types of discriminatory actions by employers. These types of actions include adverse employment actions (e.g., hiring, firing, promotion, pay, benefits, assignments, and any other term or condition of employment), and harassment or hostile work environment based on religion.
Employers are also prohibited from segregating employees based on their religious beliefs. For example, it is unlawful to assign an employee to a job or position without customer contact, because of the employee's religious beliefs. This is true even in the face of customer preferences.
If you feel you have been the victim of religious discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.