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Religious Rights Alter Dress Codes

Recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decisions based on promoting employee religious rights have turned corporate dress policies into minefields.

In a recent case an employer rejected an applicant because company rules require that employees wear pants.

The female applicant, an observant member of the Apostolic Faith Church of God and True Holiness, a Pentecostal Christian denomination, said her religious belief forbids women to wear pants and that she is commanded to wear skirts or dresses.

EEOC’s made it clear in its ruling that employers are expected to create solutions to accommodate these kinds of applicants instead of rejecting them.

“Federal law requires employers to fairly balance an employee’s right to practice his or her religion and the operation of the business,” EEOC stated.

“For an accommodation to be meaningful under the law, it both must respect the employee’s religious beliefs and permit her to do her job effectively.”

Religious accommodation cases involving work attire that have gotten the most attention are those that dealt with Muslim clothing restrictions. These include the Abercrombie & Fitch head scarf case that went to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the retailer’s rejection of a female applicant.

However, other religious discrimination cases have involved different groups, including Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists, notes Richard B. Cohen, an attorney with the law firm of FisherBroyles.

“Unless it creates an undue burden, an employee’s religious practices and beliefs must be accommodated,” he stresses. “And seeking such an accommodation through an interactive process with the employee is a must.”

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