Guidelines on Religious Dress and Grooming in the Workplace

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) recently published new guidelines designed to help employers better understand what constitutes discrimination when it comes to religious dress and grooming.

The new guidelines include helpful examples that can be applied to real-life circumstances faced by employees and employers.

It’s a lengthy document full of useful information, but here are some highlights regarding what Georgia workers and employers need to know about accommodating religious dress and grooming under Title VII:

“Sincerely held belief:” Title VII applies to all religious beliefs, not just traditional organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam.

For instance, people who follow a religion that is new, uncommon, or not part of a formal church, are also protected by Title VII as long as they have a “sincerely held belief” in the religion. It also protects people who follow a traditionally organized religion, but have a non-traditional practice or sect within that religion. It also protects individuals who recently started practicing a new religion.

Workplace Safety and Health: Sometimes religious dress or grooming practices may differ from company standards due to workplace safety concerns. However, a company is still obligated to accommodate the employee, as long as that accommodation does not cause undue hardship on the organization.

For example, if a well-qualified employee with facial hair is hired for a job in a food processing plant that requires employees to be clean-shaven, and his beard is part of his sincerely held religious belief, the employer needs to take reasonable steps to accommodate him. In this case, the employer may ask the employees to wear two face masks to ensure that the food processing area does not become contaminated by human hair.

When employers may deny a religious accommodation: One of the few exceptions to this rule is when religious dress or grooming becomes a serious threat to workplace safety, and no accommodations can be made without undue hardship.

For example, loose-fitting clothing cannot be worn around certain factory equipment under any circumstances without greatly increasing the employees’ risk of being hurt. In this case, the risk cannot be based on speculation. For this to be lawful, the hazard needs to be validated by data from safety studies.

It’s important for all frontline managers to be familiar with these guidelines. Title VII applies to all employers with at least 15 employees, including those in the private sector, employment agencies, unions, state and local government employers, and federal government agencies. For more information about Employment Law, click here to access the EEOC web site or contact Lajuana Ransaw or call 770-957-3937.

Smith, Welch, Webb and White is recognized as a premier law firm throughout the State of Georgia with expertise in this area of law. We have an uncompromising commitment to serving our clients and our community. Our team of experts routinely handles a wide range of legal matters, and will provide outstanding service for you, your family or your business.


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