Another interesting post from Volokh Conspiracy involving ‘religious accommodation’, that is, how laws or regulations and religious belief intersect. The issue here is a woman working for a private security firm. She believes that her religion requires her to cover her head while in public. The company says that such a head covering violates company policy which requires a uniform appearance. Neither side would bend and the company fired her.

The woman then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a government organization designed to do what its title says, which supported her claim. The discussion finds that this woman’s case is distinguishable from similar cases involving police and fire departments because the woman’s employer is a private company, with less compelling need for uniformity in all regards.

Oh, by the way… the head covering under discussion is not a hijab!

EEOC Concludes Company Should Have
Reasonably Accommodated Employee’s
Felt Religious Obligation to Wear a Headscarf
Eugene Volokh

According to the Complaint in EEOC v. Pollard Agency, filed last week, the Pollard Agency fired an employee for “wearing a headscarf to cover her hair, which is a sincerely held religious belief as required by her faith.” The EEOC argues that this violates the duty of religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended in 1972).

I think the EEOC is likely right, if it’s discussion of the facts is correct. Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations, by (1) giving religious employees special exemptions from generally applicable job requirements (2) if the requirements interfere with an employee’s “religious observance and practice” and (3) such an exemption doesn’t impose “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business,” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(j). Exemptions from dress codes, such as no-hat rules, requirements that everyone wear pants (which some religious groups object to, when applied to women), and the like, are a classic example of reasonable accommodations, since an employer can generally grant them without an undue hardship.

March:15:2010 - 09:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink
8 Responses to “Head Coverings and Religious Accommodation”
  1. 1
    Daisy Said:
    March:15:2010 - 09:17 

    Whether it’s a Muslim head covering or a Christian one should not be relevant – rules should be the same for all religions. The issue is whether a head covering as a religious garb should be allowed in an official situation. We have discussed earlier that face-covering should not be allowed, but I don’t see why head-covering, if it doesn’t interfere with the identity of the person should not be allowed. I feel the EEOC is right in its decision.

  2. 2
    Chiara Said:
    March:17:2010 - 09:15 

    Neither side would bend and the company fired her.

    That is the biggest problem in these individual cases usually. Stubbornness and failures of imagination.

    On a broader social level, developing a uniform that has a standard accepted religious variant helps, eg. in Canada the RCMP have a regulation Sikh turban as an alternative for Sikhs among their ranks, ditto major city police forces where it has been recognized that community policing by same ethnicity/linguistic group police officers is a great advantage generally, and positive role modelling for youth at risk. It also makes various ethnic celebrations go off with fewer “incidents”. I have been in some where the ratio of appropriate ethnicity to white officer is 50-1.

  3. 3
    John Burgess Said:
    March:17:2010 - 10:01 

    The Canadian rule you cite is essentially the same for US police forces. The twist in this case was that the woman was working for a private security firm, with less compelling legal reasons for imposing absolute standards.

  4. 4
    Chiara Said:
    March:17:2010 - 12:54 

    Yes, that is an important distinction and one that shows short-sightedness by private companies, who at least in Canada always lag behind the government in hiring, accommodating, and promoting whatever oppressed minority: women, aboriginals, immigrants, GLBTQ, etc.

    However as a friend specialized in the private corporate sector says, as long as they are willing to pay the government mandated severance, they can and will fire you for no reason, or any whim of a reason, and don’t have to tell you anything.

    In these cases mutual accommodation or looking for work elsewhere while still employed make better sense to me.

  5. 5
    John Burgess Said:
    March:17:2010 - 13:46 

    There’s lots of variance among the states, but the basic rule is severance is determined by the contract. It may be a union-negotiated contract or an individual contract, but (again generally) the state or federal gov’t has no say on whether or what amount of severance might be paid. Both employer and employee have the right to severe the work agreement, usually with some fixed period of notice.

  6. 6
    Chiara Said:
    March:17:2010 - 15:08 

    Well we are a pinko country after all LOL :)

  7. 7
    John Burgess Said:
    March:17:2010 - 17:19 

    I thought you were “America’s hat”! :)

  8. 8
    Chiara Said:
    March:17:2010 - 18:01 

    That would be a red, white, and pink “tuque”! :)

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