May an employer automatically refuse to accommodate an employee’s religious garb if it would violate its dress code?


Ruth has been hired to work as a front desk attendant at a sports club where her duties consist of checking members’ identification badges as they enter the facility. The club manager tells Ruth that the club has a dress code requiring all employees to wear white tennis shorts and a polo shirt with the facility logo. Based on her religious beliefs, Ruth adheres to modest dress. She requests permission as a religious accommodation to wear a long, white skirt with the required shirt, instead of wearing shorts. Can the club automatically refuse to accommodate Ruth’s request?


No. Title VII requires an employer, once it is aware that a religious accommodation is needed, to accommodate an employee whose sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance conflicts with a work requirement, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. In this instance, the club must grant Ruth’s request for an accommodation because her sincerely held religious belief conflicts with the workplace dress code, and accommodating her would not pose an undue hardship.

If other employees sought exceptions to the dress code for nonreligious reasons, the club would be allowed to deny their requests, even though Ruth was granted a religious accommodation. When an exception is made as a religious accommodation, an employer may nevertheless retain its usual dress and grooming expectations for other employees, even if they want an exception for secular reasons. Coworkers' disgruntlement or jealousy about the religious accommodation is not considered undue hardship, nor is customer preference.

Source: EEOC Publication “Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities,”; reported in Employment Practices Guide ¶5497.

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