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Religious freedom act doesn’t apply to employment

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Good news for federal employers: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) doesn’t give your employees additional rights to practice their religion. Instead, when an employee claims an employer’s grooming policies interfere with his right to practice his religion, only Title VII applies.

Recent case: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) hired Albion Francis, who wears his hair in dreadlocks as an expression of his religious beliefs, as an airport screener. After completing his training program, the TSA informed Francis that his dreadlocks did not comply with its grooming policy and that he would have to cut them off or resign.

Francis immediately filed an RFRA lawsuit in federal court, claiming that the law gave federal employees the right to sue directly for any infringement of the right to practice their religion. But the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed; for employment-related religious issues, the proper legal remedy is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, not the RFRA. (Francis v. Mineta, No. 06-1293, 3rd Cir., 2007)

Final note: You must reasonably accommodate employees’ religious practices and beliefs. Employees may be entitled to time off to worship.

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