Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Take Me To Church….Just Not While I’m At Work

In June 2015, the Supreme Court issued a decision that will forever change the face of religious discrimination in the workplace. In EEOC vs. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the court ruled that an employer cannot make employment decisions based on a candidate’s religious practices. In this particular case, Abercrombie did not hire a job applicant because she wore a hijab, or head scarf, which went against the company’s “Looks” policy forbidding “caps” from being worn on the head. During the interview, the candidate made no mention of her religious views, but did wear the black hijab during her interview. She was determined to be qualified for the position, with the exception of her head scarf which conflicted with the company’s “Looks” policy. Although the applicant did not expressly state that the hijab was worn as part of her religious beliefs, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that she was discriminated against in the company’s decision not to hire her for the sales position.

What does this mean for discrimination in the workplace moving forward? If an employer knows OR EVEN SUSPECTS that an applicant or employee wears certain items of clothing due to religious beliefs, as is the case with this applicant and her head scarf, it is best to err on the side of caution. Here are a few steps that every employer can and should take to ensure that religious discrimination is not a factor in your hiring practices or employee relations.

[tweetthis]3 Steps EVERY Employer Must Take to Avoid Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.[/tweetthis]

Step 1: Walk the fine line of assumption versus dialogue. This case sets the bar for common sense assumptions – something that is not black and white but is in fact, subjective to the interview panel or supervisor. Although it is illegal to ask an applicant or employee what their religious beliefs are, be aware and use common sense in offering accommodations where it appears that a religious accommodation may be necessary (i.e. a job applicant wearing a hijab when your “Looks” policy prohibits caps).

Step 2: Even if a policy applies to ALL applicants, do not assume it is therefore a neutral policy. This case clearly determined that a policy that applies to everyone is still in violation of Title VII rights.

Step 3: All assessments and assumptions made by the employer should be fully defined by the interactive process between employer and employee/applicant to ensure that all protected classes are being safeguarded. This case not only tells us that religion will be protected, even in the case of company policies and dress codes, but that other factors should be considered as well – age, gender, pregnancy, national origin, presumed disabilities, etc.

Dress code policies are a touchy subject in human resources these days, and should always be reviewed by experts to ensure compliance and legal protection for the employer. Religious discrimination is something that can be avoided if your policies are accurately documented in accordance with the law.

The solution: Make sure your employment policies are in accordance with legal requirements, consult an expert on training for harassment, discrimination, bullying and management training, and stay apprised of new case law and decisions regarding this very controversial and sensitive subject. Employers are allowed to have dress code policies, but the terrain is getting tricky to navigate, so be cautious and make sure your policies are backed up by a bona fide job requirement – not personal preference. Peoplescape consultants are trained in all of these areas, and we are just a phone call away!