EEOC Issues Guidance on Religious Clothing and Grooming

On March 6, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued two technical assistance publications on workplace rights and responsibilities for religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. One of the publications is a fact sheet located here and the other is a 17-page question-and-answer guide located here.

In a press release, the EEOC explained that covered employers must make exceptions to their usual rules or practices to permit applicants and employees to follow religiously mandated dress and grooming practices, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. Examples of religious dress and grooming practices include: wearing religious clothing or articles (e.g., a Christian cross, a Muslim hijab (headscarf), a Sikh turban, a Sikh kirpan (symbolic miniature sword)); observing a religious prohibition against wearing certain garments (e.g., a Muslim, Pentecostal Christian, or Orthodox Jewish woman’s practice of wearing modest clothing, and of not wearing pants or short skirts); or adhering to shaving or hair length observances (e.g., Sikh uncut hair and beard, Rastafarian dreadlocks, or Jewish peyes (sidelocks)).

The question and answer guide covers many topics including:

  • Whether employers have to exempt all employees from dress and grooming practices if they make exemptions for some employees for religious reasons;
  • how employers should know when they must consider making a religious exception;
  • whether customer, client, and co-worker preferences constitute an undue hardship;
  • whether an employer can move an employee to a non-customer-contact position because of a customer preference;
  • whether an employer may deny accommodation of an employee’s religious dress or grooming practice based on the “image” the employer seeks to convey; and
  • whether an employer may deny accommodation based on workplace safety, security, or health concerns.

The EEOC encourages employers to make a case-by-case analysis of each requested religious accommodation, and to train managers on how to handle religious accommodation requests appropriately.