We came across an article from SHRM’s newsletter titled “EEOC: Applicants’ Religious Beliefs Must Be Considered” by Roy Maurer. This article takes a look at a 2015 law suit against United Parcel Service (UPS) to explain the laws relating to religious discrimination in hiring practices. UPS had an appearance policy that did not accommodate those who honored a prescribed religious form of dress and grooming. For example, the article states that male employees were not allowed to grow beards or have hair longer than collar length. This was specifically problematic for some Muslim, Native American, and Rastafarian applicants. Those who refused to comply with the appearance policy were only allowed to hold nonsupervisory positions without customer interaction. The law suit, initiated by the EEOC, closed with a $4.9 million settlement.
The article cites Kevin Berry, director of the EEOC’s New York District office, to explain how UPS broke the federal law with their hiring practices. Berry explains that UPS violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law prohibits religious discrimination by employers, including the refusal to accommodate those who adhere to religious dress and grooming. Berry also explains that employers are only exempt from Title VII in cases in which religious accommodations would cause the organization “undue hardship.” Title VII defines undue hardship as “imposing more than ordinary administrative costs or burdens on the operation of the employer’s business.” UPS’s concern for upsetting customer preferences or loosing business due to employee appearance did not legally hold up to this definition.
To close, contributors to the article offer suggestions to help employers avoid religious discrimination while hiring. It is recommended that employers acknowledge the option for religious accommodation in their official dress code policy. Training and education about discrimination laws should also be provided to all hiring personnel or those who are designated to respond to accommodation requests. It is also critical that these individuals work to find alternative accommodations if a request is not possible because of undue hardship.
We would like to add that the implementation of an anonymous ethics hotline and case management system can empower organizations to prevent discrimination of any form. Red Flag Reporting provides a safe and secure way for members of an organization to express their concerns. Furthermore, designated investigators are provided with comprehensive and organized reports to facilitate the resolution of ethical breaches. Proactive efforts to combat discrimination in the work place can protect your organization and its reputation.