Human Resources News & Insights

Court: Grooming policy was biased

Many companies create employee appearance policies to improve customer relations. What happens when a worker says his religion won’t let him follow the new rules?

That issue came up in one employee’s recent lawsuit.

The employee was a Rastafarian, a faith that prohibited him from shaving or cutting his hair. His job duties included greeting and assisting customers, until the company adopted a new personal appearance policy in an effort to improve business.

The policy stated that any employees who were in contact with customers had to be clean-shaven and wear their hair neatly.

The employee told his boss he could not follow the policy but would still like to work with customers. However, deciding not to exempt him from the rules, the company changed his job duties to eliminate customer contact.

He sued for religious discrimination, claiming his new working conditions were less desirable.

The company tried to have the case thrown out, but a court let it move forward. Why?

The court refused to conclude that allowing an exemption from the policy would constitute an “undue hardship” or that placing him in a less desirable job was a reasonable accommodation.

The ruling conflicts with some other courts’ decisions, which allowed companies to terminate workers because of their appearance in front of customers, despite religious objections.

In this case, though, the company failed to prove it had considered any alternate possibilities besides letting him ignore the policy or putting him in the new job.

Cite: Brown v. F.L. Roberts and Co.

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  1. Julaine J. Bianculli says:

    I am confused. How many alternatives does one have to show before it is enough? If the company had terminated him instead of offering the alternatives, would that have ended in a lawsuit as well and could the compony have eon the case?
    It certainly is conflicting. Please see if you can clarify

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