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Can My Job Force A Haircut Against My Religion?

by | Apr 3, 2019 | Employment Discrimination, Religious Discrimination, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Religious Discrimination Attorney Answer: Can my boss force me to cut my hair to comply with the company’s look policy and to get a promotion even though it is against my religious beliefs? What can I do if it’s against my religious beliefs to shave my beard, but my manager is forcing me to do it anyways? Can I get an accommodation to keep my long hair for religious reasons?

I love whenever I see a United Parcel Service (UPS) truck outside of my house. It usually means my package has arrived, or better yet, a present. Boy, do I like presents. I look forward to the big brown truck parking in the street outside of my house, and a friendly delivery man placing my package on my doorstep. On average, UPS delivers roughly 15.8 million packages each day. That’s a lot of boxes!

However, UPS is in some trouble in the state of New York. UPS must pay $4.9 million to settle a class action religious discrimination lawsuit lodged against the company. Have you ever noticed how most UPS delivery drivers look very similar? There’s a distinct look and conformity to their drivers. This is no accident. UPS has a policy that prohibits male employees in supervisory or customer contact positions, including delivery drivers, from wearing beards or growing their hair below collar length. The lawsuit alleged that since at least January 2005, UPS did not hire or promote men whose religious practices conflict with its appearance policy. Essentially, UPS would hide employees who kept their hair long or grew beards for religious reasons, away from their customers. Regular readers of our employment discrimination lawyers’ blog (you’re the best!), will know how our attorneys feel about look policies and appearance requirements. (See Can I Sue My Employer For Not Accommodating My Religious Dress? I Need A Lawyer!; Can My Boss Tell Me Not To Wear Religious Articles Of Clothing At Work? Best Lawyer Update; Top Lawyer Reply: Do Race Or Religious Discrimination Employment Laws Extend To Hairstyles?).

Bilal Abdullah of Rochester was the first to file a discrimination charge in 2015, which prompted the nationwide investigation into UPS hiring and promotion practices. Bilal’s complaint unveiled a national and systematic internal scheme of discrimination. Bilal is Muslim. He has a beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. Bilal applied for a driver helper position. However, he was told by the hiring manager that “God would understand” if he shaved his beard to get a driver helper job in Rochester, New York. The arrogance of a manager or boss to speak on behalf of God always amazes me. You would think that it would take a special kind narcissistic, self-absorbed egotist to claim to know what God would say, but these types of responses are unfortunately too common in religious harassment and discrimination cases by a boss, manager, supervisor, or even the owner of a company.

After being told that by the hiring manager, Bilal said that he would not compromise his religious beliefs, and so, the hiring manager suggested that he apply for a package handler position where he would have no customer interaction.

After the nationwide investigation was launched, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) discovered that there were similar stories all over the country. (See Top Employment Law Attorney: Do Not File With The EEOC Without Doing This FirstFile With The EEOC Or Get A Lawyer? Call The Right Attorney; Should I Get A Lawyer To Help Me File An EEOC Charge?; and Should I File With The EEOC On My Own? Call The Right Attorney).

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a Rastafarian part-time load supervisor was told by his manager to cut his dreadlocks because he “didn’t want any employees looking like women” on his management team. This comment reveals a whole new level of gender bias and discrimination, but for today we are only discussing religious discrimination.

In another location, Muhammed Farhan was discriminated against for his religious beliefs too. Muhammed, another an employee of UPS, was demoted because of his religious beliefs. Muhammed was a supervisor for a loading dock at a UPS plant. Muhammed is also Muslim, and in accordance with his religious practices, he grows his beard out. Everything was fine until Muhammed was given a new supervisor who insisted that Muhammed cut his beard. Muhammed refused to shave his beard because of his religious beliefs and was demoted because of it. Muhammed was an excellent supervisor, well-liked by his subordinates and former manager, but even that didn’t protect him from religious discrimination.

There are so many stories like the ones discussed above. It is honestly shocking that UPS did not have to pay more money, which is an issue going through the EEOC as the EEOC gets to decide the settlement amount. UPS had a clear pattern of religious discrimination.

This policy was effectively a gate keeper for many men and prevented them from getting a job or being promoted for their religious beliefs. Many religions, including Sikhism, Amish, Islam and sects of Judaism, encourage or require their men to keep beards. Similarly, many different religious groups encourage men to grow out their hair.

UPS predictably defended its practices. UPS issued a statement, “UPS respects religious differences and is confident in the legality of its employment practices. The company will review this case, and defend its practices that demonstrate a proven track record for accommodation.” Yeah… good luck with that.

This kind of discriminatory behavior is strictly prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is illegal for employers to discriminate against individuals because of their religion. The lead attorney for the lawsuit said, “For far too long, applicants and employees at UPS have been forced to choose between violating their religious beliefs and advancing their careers at UPS.” The UPS appearance policy was at odds with not only Title VII, but it was also fundamentally at odds with our nation’s foundational Freedom of Religion. Choosing between religious beliefs and career advancement is an impossible choice. One that no one should ever be forced to make.

Title VII prohibits employers from treating applicants or employees differently based on their religious beliefs or religious practices—or lack thereof. Thus, the boss cannot promote only employees that go to his or her church, mosque or temple. It’s also illegal to harass employees because of their religious beliefs or practices—or lack thereof—or because of the religious practices or beliefs of people with whom they associate. It’s illegal to deny a requested reasonable accommodation of an applicant or an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices—or lack thereof. This would include allowing employees to wear certain religious articles of clothing, observe holidays, or take prayer breaks as long as it is not unduly burdensome to the employer. Under Title VII, an employer cannot force an employee to participate in religious activities – such as a morning prayer circle. Lastly, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee who has engaged in a protected activity, or opposition to religious discrimination.

Religion under Title VII is defined broadly. Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief. Religion isn’t just the traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. This may seem unreasonable to some, but our country holds religious freedom as a fundamental right. In the eyes of the law, placing any restrictions of the definition of religion is inherently against our fundamental rights as Americans.

Deservedly so, the award in this settlement is quite large. Money is always exciting, who does not love it? Almost as exciting as this monstrous award is the fact that UPS has to implement new religious accommodation processes and request forms. And, UPS must train their employees on the new process, and meet with employees who file claims to discuss any accommodations needed.

Reasonable accommodation requests do not always have to be granted. Companies are not obligated to grant all accommodation requests. A company may rightfully reject a request for a reasonable accommodation if it would pose an undue hardship on the company. It’s highly unlikely that UPS will be able to furnish an excuse as to why letting male employees keep their long hair would constitute an undue hardship.

Undue hardship is determined on a case by case basis. Where the facility making the accommodation is part of a larger entity, the structure and overall resources of the larger organization would be considered, as well as the financial and administrative relationship of the facility to the larger organization.

If an accommodation request would impose an undue hardship on an employer, the employer must try to identify another accommodation that will not pose such a hardship. It is important to note that if the reason the employer rejects the accommodation, is because of the financial strain the accommodation would impose, the employee with the disability should be given the option to pay for a portion of the cost of the accommodation. The whole purpose behind this, is to try to open a channel of communication between the employer and the employee so that they can come to a mutually agreeable compromise.

Even though this is a New York case, the lessons remain the same for Ohio employees. Federal law protects against religious discrimination. Ohio employees enjoy the same protections that the New York and Florida employees enjoyed in this case. The law is meant to protect the interests of the citizens and promote a better society. Former President Barack Obama explained this philosophy in true eloquent Obama fashion when he said, “One of the great strengths of the United States is…we have a very large Christian population yet we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizen who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

The law is meant to protect the interests of all citizens not a just a majority or popular view. Justice is not always the easy choice, but it is always the right choice. Because of Bilal’s courageous decision to go up against a giant company to assert his rights, countless others will finally be given the opportunity for advancement within UPS. At the end of the day, this is what our employment attorneys fight for.

If you feel that you are being discriminated or harassed based on your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a religious discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Call our office at 866-797-6040.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this religious discrimination blog and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I get a religious accommodation to take the Sabbath off?”, “What should I do if my manager makes fun of my religious beliefs?”, “Can my boss discriminate against me because I’m (Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Hindu)?” or “I was fired for my religious beliefs – can sue for wrongful termination?”. The best answer to “What can I do?”, is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.