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What You Should Know About Religious Headwear in the Workplace

Religion plays a fundamental role in many people's lives. For some, practicing religion is a much more active process than just attending services. Some religions require adherents to wear specific clothing, for example. This can create issues when a religious person seeks out employment, because those of a mind to discriminate based on religious beliefs can easily identify followers of certain religions based on that clothing. Fortunately, there are laws preventing this and a recent United States Supreme Court decision has reaffirmed these protections against religious discrimination.

Religion plays a fundamental role in many people’s lives. For some, practicing religion is a much more active process than just attending services. Some religions require adherents to wear specific clothing, for example. This can create issues when a religious person seeks out employment, because those of a mind to discriminate based on religious beliefs can easily identify followers of certain religions based on that clothing. Fortunately, there are laws preventing this and a recent United States Supreme Court decision has reaffirmed these protections against religious discrimination.

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(Photo Credit: MaplessinSeattle/Flickr)

The Abercrombie & Fitch Case

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The Supreme Court case involved the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suing Abercrombie & Fitch on behalf of a Muslim woman named Samantha Elauf, who claims she was discriminated against when she applied for a job with the company.

The claim is that the company refused to hire her because she wore a headscarf to her interview. Abercrombie & Fitch argued that it did not hire Ms. Elauf because her scarf clashed with their dress code, and that they should not have to guess that her wearing of the scarf was for religious reasons.

The case went to trial, and was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. An appellate court overturned the jury’s verdict, saying that because Ms. Elauf never explicitly told the company before it made its hiring decision that she wore her headscarf for religious reasons, the case should have been dismissed.

The Supreme Court disagreed. It ruled that people like Ms. Elauf do not have to make a specific request for religious accommodation to be protected by the Civil Rights Act. Employers cannot make an applicant’s religious practice, or what the employer assumes to be a religious practice, a reason for employment decisions.

What You Should Know About Your Rights

While each state has its own laws regarding religious discrimination, most employees in the United States are covered by the Civil Rights Act. This law protects people who belong to traditional mainstream religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but it also protects others who have sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs. Discrimination based on religion is prohibited when it comes to any area of employment. Harassment is also illegal, as is segregation.

The Civil Rights Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s religious beliefs unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the business. These accommodations can include dress code accommodations, and unless allowing for the accommodation would cause an undue hardship, the employee should be granted the accommodation.

Hardships can be things that would be costly, compromise safety, decrease efficiency, infringe on other employees’ rights, or force other employees to do more than their share of dangerous work. So, wearing a headscarf in certain factory environments where it could get caught in machinery and be extremely dangerous may not be an accommodation required by the law. But, allowing the wearing of a headscarf while selling clothing is not a hardship, and thus is a required accommodation.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you know someone who has been denied a job because he or she wears religious clothing? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Daniel Kalish
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jIM hORN

Employers have rights and fiduciary responsibility and duties to their stockholders and other employees to manage religion in the workplace for the mutual benefit of everyone. Making reasonable accommodation for Jews and Moslems in one area (among many) where employers and managers can be professional and effective. My book: ISLAM IN THE WORKPLACE provides information and guidelines for employers, fellow workers, and others in many aspects of the workplace.

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