For some people, faith is a private thing. For others, though, their religious practice involves specific clothing requirements or grooming practices. Can their employers forbid them from this active and visible expression of their faith?
What forms might religious clothing or grooming practices take?
A variety of different faiths outline specific guidelines for a follower’s appearance. These include:
- Hijabs, turbans and other head coverings
- Prohibitions against exposing specific parts of the body
- Prohibitions against wearing certain garments like short skirts, pants or shirts that expose the shoulders
- Specific guidance regarding hair length, as when a Sikh does not cut their hair
- Religious accessories like cross necklaces.
Can employers forbid these practices in employee dress codes?
Unfortunately, the requirements imposed by many companies’ dress codes may conflict with the sincerely held religious beliefs of their employees. For example, a company that forbids hats and head coverings may also be indirectly discriminating against employees whose religion requires them to wear head coverings.
Under the law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious observance. This means that employers cannot forbid religious grooming or clothing practices simply because of an aesthetic preference. They must work with employees to accommodate their religious practice unless it would put their business in a position of undue hardship.
If you have been treated differently in the workplace because of your religious practices, you can take action to protect your rights on the job.