Differing male and female grooming standards may signal opening for religious accommodation — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Differing male and female grooming standards may signal opening for religious accommodation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Some religions prohibit men from cutting their hair. That can conflict with company grooming standards that set different limits on how long male and female employees may wear their hair.

Generally, courts allow such differences and don’t stop employers from disciplining men who don’t comply, even if women are allowed longer hair. Courts say that’s not sex discrimination.

Even so, a man whose religion says he cannot cut his hair may have a religious discrimination case. In fact, he can use the female grooming standards as proof that allowing his hair to remain long is a reasonable accommodation. The argument: If women can wear their hair long, there’s no reason he can’t, too.

Recent case: Niles Dodd was working as a SEPTA transit police officer when he began exploring different religions. He became a Rastafarian, which meant he could no longer cut his hair.

SEPTA had strict grooming guidelines that required male police officers to keep their hair relatively short or keep long hair tucked under their caps. Female officers were allowed to wear their hair long or in a ponytail.

As soon as Dodd revealed his new religion, his supervisor started making derogatory comments about its practitioners, suggesting that being a Rastafarian consisted of smoking marijuana and wearing dreadlocks. Dodd also was pushed to cut his hair and called on the carpet for just about every hairstyle he tried. No other officers got similar treatment.

Finally, SEPTA suspended and then terminated Dodd for failing to comply with the policy.

He sued, alleging failure to accommodate his religious beliefs. The court said he would be allowed to argue that applying the female grooming standards to him would have been a reasonable accommodation of his religious beliefs. (Dodd v. SEPTA, No. 06-4213, ED PA, 2008)

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