When A Dress Code Violates Employees’ Religious Practice

feldman_amy Amy Feldman
Amy E. Feldman is a business commentator and legal business...
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By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - When is it legally acceptable for a company to create a dress code policy if it forbids religious garb?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a lawsuit against a North Carolina Taco Bell franchise, after management fired a worker who wouldn’t cut his hair because of his religious beliefs.

The man is a member of a little known religious sect called the Nazarites, which forbids workers from cutting their hair. But we’ve always been told that private companies are free to implement dress code standards. What gives? 

The answer is that while a company is free to require professional appearance standards, it also has a duty to accommodate a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless health or safety would be compromised.

I have to say I’m not a big fan of the idea of finding a 6 foot long hair in my burrito, but so long as a hairnet is an adequate accommodation, the company needs to make sure it’s not acting in a way that discriminates against a person’s religious beliefs – even if the worker prepares food that you don’t eat if you’re trying to treat your body like a temple.

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