Last week, the EEOC issued guidance on religious garb and grooming in the workplace: a Q&A document and a fact sheet on the topic.

Highlights from the Q&A include:

  • A company’s “image” or marketing strategy regarding employee appearance to its customers or customer preferences cannot be used as a basis to deny employment or a religious accommodation or to segregate an employee wearing religious dress from interacting with customers.
  • Refusing to hire an employee based on an assumption that they will need a religious accommodation (such as an employee who wears a headscarf to an interview) violates Title VII in the EEOC’s view. According to the EEOC, the employer should hire the individual if qualified, then after hiring instruct her to remove the headscarf if required by company policy. At that time, the employee may request a religious accommodation if removing the headscarf conflicts with her sincerely held beliefs.
  • Managers should be trained not to stereotype work qualifications and availability of applicants and employees based on their religious dress or grooming.
  • An individual’s religious practices can deviate from commonly-understood tents of the religion and still be sincerely-held religious beliefs may require a religious accommodation.
  • Employers may deny a religious accommodation when it conflicts with a workplace safety, security, or health concern. Examples provided include clothing caught in machinery and facial hair that would interfere with sterilization of the employer’s products. However, in both cases, the EEOC suggested these situations could be remedied by close-fitting clothing and beard covers, if those accommodations resolve the conflict between the employer’s policy and the employee’s religious practices.

The Q&A provides several helpful examples (many from EEOC litigated cases), which illustrate the EEOC’s positions on various accommodations for religious dress and grooming. The fact sheet provides a concise summary of employers’ obligations under Title VII to provide religious accommodations, prohibitions against harassment based on religion and retaliation for engaging in protected activity under Title VII, which includes requesting a religious accommodation.