Was termination discriminatory when employer was unaware grooming policy violation was for religious reasons?


Your company requires all employees to be clean-shaven. James was a new employee who was hired based on an online application and a telephone interview. When he arrived the first day with an unshorn beard, he was told by his supervisor that he must comply with the "clean-shaven" policy or be terminated. James refused to comply, but failed to tell his supervisor that he wears a beard because he is a Messianic Christian. After his termination, James filed a complaint, alleging religious discrimination. Was his termination discriminatory?


No. After being informed of the “clean-shaven” policy, James should have explained to his supervisor that he wears the beard pursuant to a religious observance. That would have been sufficient to request accommodation. The employer is permitted to obtain the limited additional information needed to determine whether James's beard is worn due to a sincerely held religious practice and, if so, must accommodate by making an exception to its "clean-shaven" policy unless doing so would be an undue hardship. Because James did not inform his employer that he wore his beard for religious reasons, the employer did not have to consider accommodation and the termination was not discriminatory.

Source: EEOC Publication: Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities, http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_religious_garb_grooming.cfm, reported in Employment Practices Guide ¶5497.

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