It's an obvious safety issue for some, but to others it's religious discrimination in the workplace

by on December 31, 2008 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Workplace religious discrimination and dress code issues

A machinist informs you that she’s converted to a religion that forbids women to wear pants.

You remind her of the company’s strict policy requiring all machine operators to wear pants while working. Sounds like a no-brainer. But if you refuse to accommodate her, she may sue for religious discrimination in the workplace. It happens all the time.

If you can prove that your dress code is for safety purposes, you’ll win a religious discrimination lawsuit. No judge will force an employer to make such an accommodation.

Of course most cases aren’t as clear-cut. For example, management may feel uncomfortable allowing a cashier to wear a turban. What should you do?

Here’s a dress code checklist to help you assess dress code violations and avoid legal entanglements and charges of workplace religious discrimination:
· Would the accommodation create a safety hazard? If the answer is “yes,” you can turn down the request for accommodation. Just be sure to document the safety issues.
· Is the dress code for appearance only? Courts have ruled that it is workplace religious discrimination to refuse employees the right to wear turbans when there were no safety issues involved. After all, turbans are protected religious symbols.
· Can the dress code be seen as sexual stereotyping? Example: it’s illegal to require women to wear uniforms while men are allowed to dress as they wish.
· Does the employee have public contact? And if so, what are the reasonable expectations of the people with whom she has contact? Employees who work directly with the public could be held to higher standards than those who work only in an office, warehouse or factory.
Source: AHI.

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