On June 1, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores. The issue in the case was the scope of an employer’s obligation to accommodate the real or perceived religious beliefs and practices of employees and applicants.
Samantha Elauf was a practicing Muslim who wore a headscarf to her interview with Abercrombie. During the interview there was no discussion of her headscarf or her religious beliefs. The interviewer assumed Ms. Elauf wore the headscarf for religious reasons. Abercrombie determined the headscarf would violate its dress code and rejected Ms. Elauf’s application for that reason.
The Supreme Court ruled that Abercrombie’s decision was religious discrimination prohibited by Title VII. Religious discrimination occurs if the real or perceived need for a religious accommodation is a motivating factor in an employer’s decision. It does not need to be the sole reason. It is not necessary for an employer to have actual knowledge of the religious beliefs or practices of the employee or applicant. An employer’s perception that the relevant behavior is religious will be enough. The Supreme Court also stated that employers must accommodate the religious beliefs or practices of applicants and employees unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship.
Following this decision, employers may want to treat real or perceived religious practices and beliefs the same way they treat real or perceived disabilities. For example, employers may want to present applicants with all relevant job requirements and expectations, including such expectations as adhering to a dress code policy or working on Saturdays and Sundays. Employers can ask applicants if there is any reason he/she cannot perform these job duties. Employers can also ask whether an applicant believes he/she will need an accommodation.
When an applicant or employee has a religious belief or practice which is inconsistent with his or her job duties, employers must explore possible accommodations. If no accommodation is possible, employers should consider how they can prove the necessary accommodation would create an undue hardship.
If you have any questions about how this decision may impact your organization’s hiring or accommodation practices, please contact John Murray or any other Lindner & Marsack attorney.