Dress at Work and Religious Accommodation
This week’s tip involved an employer’s right to control the attire worn by employees. One other point that needs to be made involves dress and religion. That necessarily raises the matter of providing a reasonable accommodation to an employee to dress differently from other employees because of religious beliefs. (See a post I did last week on a different aspect of religious accommodation.)
Muslim clothing has been in the news lately, creating some familiarity with hijab (headscarf), burqa (something that covers the entire body except the eyes and hands), and khimar (a veil). All of these articles of clothing might be required for women, depending on their particular beliefs. Muslim clothing for men isn’t as strict. The idea with all Muslim clothing is that the person be modestly dressed. There are items of clothing also required for certain Jewish sects as well as Christian sects.
I’m no expert on religious dress, and neither are most of you. From an employment law standpoint, the requirement is that employers allow employees of different religions to wear what their faith requires as a reasonable accommodation — unless it causes the employer an undue hardship.
If clothing presents a safety hazard, that’s ordinarily going to be an undue hardship. There can also be safety hazards in some jobs if males have facial hair, which is required by certain religions. There can be other things particular to an industry or business that would make it difficult to allow certain religious clothing.
The point is that if an employee requests a clothing accommodation because of religious beliefs, an employer must consider the request. Don’t give it short shrift or deny it on the spot. It’s usually advisable to consult with legal counsel in this kind of situation.