EEOC Posts New Documents Addressing Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

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By Kevin P. McGowan  

March 11 --The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission March 6 posted two new technical assistance publications on the agency website that address workplace rights and responsibilities regarding religious dress and grooming under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In a one-page fact sheet, the EEOC provides basic information about Title VII's prohibition on religious discrimination and an employer's obligation reasonably to accommodate workers' religious observances in the workplace unless such accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer's business.

The EEOC said in addition to accommodating an employee's dress and grooming requirements based on sincere religious belief, an employer may not segregate employees based on religion, permit harassment of employees based on religion or retaliate against an employee who requests a religious accommodation or engages in other protected activity under Title VII.

Customer Preference No Defense

In a second, lengthier question-and-answer document, the EEOC explains how Title VII's religious discrimination provision plays out in various workplace scenarios.

In its responses to 16 questions about Title VII's scope and application to situations involving employees' religious garb and grooming, the EEOC provides numerous examples of cases illustrating employers' obligations and the rights of job applicants and employees under the statute and relevant case law.

“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,” the EEOC said in the Q&A document.

Employers violate Title VII if they fire or take other adverse action against an employee who wears certain items or adopts a certain hairstyle for religious reasons because the employer's customers, clients or other employees object based on discriminatory religious preferences, the EEOC said.

Proving 'Undue Hardship.'

An employer may not automatically refuse an employee's religiously based dress or hair request because it violates the employer's dress or grooming policy, but rather must accommodate the employee's request unless it would cause an undue hardship to the employer, the EEOC said.

Courts have interpreted “undue hardship” in the Title VII religious discrimination context to mean a “more than de minimis” cost or burden on the employer's business operation, the EEOC said.

An employer under Title VII may disallow an employee's religious dress or grooming practice based on workplace security, safety or health concerns, but only if the employer proves the practice actually poses an undue hardship on its business operations, the EEOC said.

The EEOC document provides links to other agency resources related to Title VII's religious discrimination provision and its effects on religious expression in the workplace.

Religious Bias Charges Rise

Religious discrimination charges filed with the EEOC on a wide range of issues “have steadily increased,” the agency said in its March 6 announcement of the new documents.

The EEOC said it received 3,721 private-sector charges alleging religious discrimination in fiscal 2013, more than double the 1,709 religious bias charges received in fiscal 1997.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin P. McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick in Washington at smcgolrick@bna.com


Text of the EEOC fact sheet is available at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/fs_religious_garb_grooming.cfm and the EEOC question-and-answer guide is at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_religious_garb_grooming.cfm.