Religious Accommodations in the Workplace: EEOC’s Updated Stance with Respect to an Employer’s Obligations

Apr 25, 2014

In late March, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance with respect to an employer’s obligation to grant religious accommodations to employees. Specifically, the guidance focuses on what constitutes a religious practice or belief and provides examples of protected religious dress and grooming practices.

According to the EEOC, the definition of “religious practice or belief” is very broad and encompasses traditional organized religions as well as new, uncommon, and informal religious beliefs. An employee’s religious belief must be “sincerely held” to trigger an employer’s obligation to accommodate it, but the EEOC now suggests an employee’s alleged religious practice or belief should not be disputed.

In addition, the guidance provides real-world examples of religious dress and grooming habits that are protected under Title VII. While the examples may prove helpful to an employer faced with determining whether or not to accommodate an employee’s alleged religious dress or grooming habits, it reiterated what most employers already know they must accommodate, absent undue hardship: crosses, headscarves, turbans, and certain hairstyles, to name a few. Of note, however, is the EEOC’s hardline stance that an employer’s customer’s preferences cannot serve as a defense in a religious failure to accommodate case. You can read the EEOC’s Religious Garb and Grooming Guidance here.

The EEOC pledged to take a more aggressive approach in pursuing religious discrimination cases over the next few years. To safeguard against liability for failing to grant a religious accommodation, review the EEOC’s recent guidance and make sure the accommodation provisions in your employee handbook are up to date. There are many issues that are not widely known that are associated with religious discrimination and accommodation in the workplace. For more information, contact The Lowenbaum Partnership today.

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