Employers Burdened with Dress Code Accommodations

Employers will now have to be very conscious when hiring to avoid claims of religious discrimination, due to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.  In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court reviewed the religious discrimination claim by a Muslim woman who wore a headscarf during her job interview at Abercrombie & Fitch, a clothing store.  Samantha Elauf was not hired by Abercrombie because managers were concerned her headscarf did not follow Abercrombie’s strict dress code, which does not permit “caps.”

One of the most interesting parts of this case is that Elauf never asked for a religious accommodation allowing her to work while wearing her headscarf and the Interviewer never asked nor confirmed whether Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons.

The Supreme Court’s decision identified the fact that an employee wearing a piece of religious clothing should not receive different treatment (discrimination) for their religious practices.

Employers should immediately train all managers and supervisors that deal directly with hiring or applicant interviews that it is critical to document details about the clothing worn by applicants if it may be of a religious nature.  Employers need to also inquire directly when an applicant wears a unique piece of clothing, as the Supreme Court has placed the burden on the employer not the applicant to ensure discrimination does not take place.  This is especially important when an applicant is not hired.

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