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Dress at Work and Religious Accommodation

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.

  1. I have superstitious employees of all types–some won’t work on Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays; some want to carry a small weapon for their god; some hear voices instructing them to not show up at work at various times, et cetera. Truthfully, helping my employee who has substance abuse issues is easier than managing all these behaviours from irrational (no evidence for need) behaviors yet if an employee yields for a vision of Mary or Zeus I have to accommodate them but not if they see pink elephants.

  2. Ginny,

    You raise a great point. I appreciate it.

    In order for an employer to have to consider a religious accommodation, the employee must be part of a recognized religion or hold a sincere religious belief. Thus, an employer has the right to look behind an employee’s request. You have to do it in a respectful way, so that you won’t be charged with retaliation. However, I don’t think you have to grant a request of an employee to carry a weapon. I don’t think you would have to provide any accommodation that poses a safety risk. I also think that some requests are so far off the wall that you would be well within your rights to require substantial evidence that the employee’s alleged religious belief is legitimate.

    Your comment leads to another point. Some people may actually see visions. I don’t know. I do know that some people who see visions and/or pink elephants have mental disorders, which could bring the ADA into play — and that could require you to deal with the isssue of reasonable accommodation.

    All of this gets very frustrating. However, I don’t think common sense has been thrown out the window altogether. If you’re faced with unuaual situations or requests, an employment lawyer may be able to help.

    Thanks again for your comment.


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