On March 6, 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued additional Guidance on how the federal employment discrimination law (Title VII) applies to religious dress codes and grooming practices. More specifically, it addresses what, when and how religious accommodations need to be made. The Guidance is titled: "Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities."
Title VII requires that an employer, once it is aware that a religious accommodation is needed, must accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. The employer must make an exception to allow the employee or applicant's religious practice unless doing so would place an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. Undue hardship for religious accommodations has been defined as "more than de minimis" cost or burden, which is a relatively low standard.
Even if a religious accommodation is made for one or several employees, the employer may still retain its dress or grooming policy and expectations for the rest of its employees. Employers are not required to give an exception for secular reasons or for jealousy or unhappiness of the other employees. Similarly, an employee's jealousy or unhappiness about an allowed religious accommodation for a co-worker is not considered undue hardship, and neither is customer preference.
The new Guidance from the EEOC provides over twenty examples of scenarios with explanations of the applicable law and guidance for what the employer should do when faced with these situations. Some scenarios include: a current employee's new religious practice or observance; assigning an employee to a "back room" because of religious dress or grooming practices; head coverings that pose security concerns; co-worker harassment based on religion; and more. It also provides answers to the most commonly asked questions that employers and employees have regarding the issue of religious accommodations for dress and grooming policies.
The full text of the Guidance can be found here: http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_religious_garb_grooming.cfm.