Just as grooming and appearance requirements can constitute sex discrimination, they can also constitute a form of religious discrimination. Religious discrimination occurs when these requirements have an adverse effect on a certain religion.
Examples of Grooming and Appearance Requirements That Are Discriminatory
Many grooming and appearance requirements have an adverse effect on certain religious groups. For example:
- A strict no beard policy can discriminate against Muslims and Orthodox Jews because they wear beards for religious reasons. This policy would prevent these groups of individuals from working, which constitutes discrimination.
- A requirement that skirts or dresses be a certain length can conflict with the religious beliefs of some employees.
What to Do in the Case of a Discriminatory Grooming and/or Appearance Requirement
If you have a policy as to grooming and/or appearance that does discriminate on the basis of religion, you will likely have to make some reasonable accommodation. In the case of grooming and appearance, you will have to either allow the employee to maintain his/her appearance in accord with his/her religion or come up with an alternative that satisfies both you and your employee.
Do I Always Have to Accommodate My Employee's Religious Beliefs?
Accommodations must be reasonable. If you cannot reasonably accommodate your employee's religion, then it is not discrimination. If your grooming or appearance requirement is necessary because of safety concerns, you will not have to accommodate. For example, if having a long beard is a safety hazard, you do not have to accommodate your employee's religious belief.
Other Advice on Grooming and Appearance Requirements
Grooming and appearance requirements must be related to the job in some way. Also, remember that an employee may be in violation of your policy because of religious reasons. Don't act quickly when you see a violation; discuss it with the employee before taking other action. If you fire the employee and it turns out he violated your policy for a religious reason, you could be sued for religious discrimination.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Grooming and Appearance Requirement Problem?
An experienced employment lawyer can help you come up with and implement a grooming and appearance policy that will take into account the religious needs of employees. If you are sued for religious discrimination because of your grooming and appearance policy, a lawyer can represent you in court.