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When religion may prevent dress code compliance, check further before discipline

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employers can establish reasonable dress code requirements, including grooming standards. However, it’s not an absolute right. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, employers must make reasonable accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs.

If an employee cites religious reasons for not complying with the dress code, look further. Don’t automatically discipline.

Recent case: Dennis Sistrunk, a practicing Rastafarian who wears his hair in dreadlocks, worked for the Camden County Workforce Investment Board (WIB). The WIB had a dress and grooming policy that required a neat appearance.

When Sistrunk was told to dress neatly, he bought the appropriate clothing.

But when he was told to cut off his dreadlocks, he said he couldn’t because of his religion. He went home and was fired when he didn’t show up to work for three days. He sued, alleging religious discrimination.

The court ordered a trial, concluding that a jury should decide whether Sistrunk had a legitimate religious belief and whether the WIB should have worked with him to accommodate it. (Sistrunk v. Camden County Workforce Investment Board, No. 1:05-CV-1506, DC NJ, 2007) 

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