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Dress Code in Indiana

A female employee who is Muslim wants to wear a headscarf at work in our Indiana company. I say it’s not appropriate and doesn’t fit our dress code. Who is right?

The best bet is to work with your employee to come up with a plan that works for the two of you. That’s because court cases in the past have supported employees in this situation. You may have a right to approve which scarf is worn, but not to refuse to allow her to wear one.

An Islamic woman’s decision to wear a headscarf is a religious right, covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII bans employers from discriminating on the basis of religion, as well as race, ethnic origin, and the like. The banned discrimination includes not only hiring but also firing and workplace conditions.

Title VII requires employers to make what are called reasonable accommodations for various religious practices. Court cases have found that making exceptions to dress codes is usually a reasonable accommodation. Some court cases have also backed in Islamic woman’s right to wear a headscarf, hijab, or clothing that protects modesty.

There was a case in 2002 in which a rental car agency in Phoenix fired a woman who refused to take off her Islamic headscarf during Ramadan. She in turn took her claim of religious discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The court awarded her $287,000. Of that, $250,000 was a penalty for violation of the law while the rest included back pay and lost wages.

Take the example of another case, this one involving two Muslim employees of a New Jersey town. The two filed suit against their employer because their dress code required all workers to be clean-shaven. They argued that their religion required them to wear beards. The court agreed, and ruled that making an exception in the dress code was a reasonable accommodation.

There are some cases in which courts have allowed for dress code restrictions.

Sometimes employers may show that making accommodations amount to an “undue hardship.” If a change in the company’s policy were significantly costly, then it would constitute an undue hardship.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 27th, 2007 at 3:58 pm and is filed under
Hiring and Staffing, Human Resources Management, Labor Laws, Termination, Workplace Management.
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