Religious Accommodations and Employee Dress Codes

Is my employer required to make exceptions to the dress code due to my religion?

A Mississippi restaurant chain is facing a lawsuit from a server who alleges the chain failed to accommodate her religious requests.  Georgia Blue LLC hired Kaetoya Watkins, a devout Apostolic Pentecostal Christian, to work as a waitress in 2015.  After receiving the job, Watkins learned that the restaurant required servers to wear blue jeans.  Watkins is only permitted to wear skirts or dresses per her religion.  When informed of this fact, the restaurant refused to accommodate her religious needs and rescinded its job offer.  Watkins file suit, claiming that the restaurant discriminated against her by refusing to make reasonable religious accommodations.

Religious Accommodations Defined

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that employers provide reasonable religious accommodations to employees.  To receive an accommodation, an employee should request the accommodation and explain his or her religious needs.  The employer will evaluate what impact, if any, the accommodation would have on the company.  

An employee must show that the requested alternative dress code is a necessary part of his or her sincerely held religious belief.  Employers are not required to accommodate fully to any request.  If the request is too burdensome, then a reasonable substitute can be negotiated.  

Generally, employers should reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs by relaxing their ordinary dress code, unless they can show that doing so presents an undue hardship.  Employers often use uniforms to assist customers in identifying staff, or for other legitimate business reasons.  However, often these interests can still be served through the employee’s requested accommodation.  For instance, an employee may be permitted to wear a scarf in addition to the uniform or an employee may be allowed to wear a beard, so long as it does not present a hygiene issue.    

Any employee who has requested a religious accommodation to their employer’s dress code and has been denied should consult with an employment discrimination attorney for an evaluation of your rights.  Employers who have questions as to whether they must make accommodations should seek the assistance of an experienced employment discrimination attorney who can ensure they conform to the law.