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Religious accommodations: Must you let employee wear a nose ring?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Federal anti-discrimination law says employers must try to “reasonably accommodate” employees’ “sincerely held religious beliefs or practices,” as long as the accommodations wouldn’t place an undue hardship on their organizations.

What religious practices would be deemed legitimate in the EEOC’s eyes? In a move that is surprising many, the EEOC has been taking on religious accommodations cases involving obscure and ill-defined religions and religious practices, as the following case shows.

The lesson:
Rather than being drawn into a dispute over whether a religious practice is sincere, it’s best to err on the side of caution—and acceptance—and try to accommodate the employee’s request.

Recent case:
Hawwah Santiago, who wears a nose ring, worked as a sandwich maker at a Florida Subway restaurant and was eventually promoted to assistant manager. Then her manager learned that the franchise rules on facial jewelry prohibited nose rings.

Santiago said the nose ring was a religious symbol. Her managers asked for proof. She brought in a note from her mother and asked to continue wearing the ring. She rejected management’s proposal to cover it with a bandage at work because she thought that would be tantamount to rejecting her religion.

Santiago was fired when she refused to remove the ring. She went to the EEOC. It sued on her behalf, claiming that it would not be a hardship for the company to allow Santiago to wear the ring.

On the issue of the bandage, the EEOC reminded the court of another case in which an employee refused to cover up a religious tattoo because doing so would be “sacrilege.” (EEOC v. Papin, etc., No. 6:07-CV-1548, MD FL, 2009)

Online resource:  For more details on accommodating religious beliefs and avoiding religion bias lawsuits, see the EEOC web site on this topic at www.eeoc.gov/types/religion.html.

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