- The owner of several McDonald's restaurants in central Florida violated federal law when it refused to hire a job applicant who would not shave his beard because of his religious beliefs, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit.
- The EEOC said a man who is a practicing Hasidic Jew applied for a job as a part-time maintenance worker. The hiring manager told him that he would be hired but would have to shave his beard to comply with McDonald's grooming policy. The applicant's request to wear a beard net was denied.
- The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, said the EEOC, which prohibits discrimination based on religion and requires employers to accommodate a job applicant's or an employee's sincerely held religious beliefs, unless doing so presents an undue hardship.
Unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer's operation of its business, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs or practices, the EEOC says in its guidance on religious discrimination.
"In most instances, employers are required by federal law to make exceptions to their usual rules or preferences to permit applicants and employees to observe religious dress and grooming practices," the federal agency says in Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities. This applies to, for example, Rastafarian dreadlocks or Sikh uncut hair and beard, which are maintained for religious reasons. However, the EEOC notes, if a dress or grooming practice is a personal preference, it does not come under Title VII's religion protections.
In general, the EEOC says, an accommodation may cause undue hardship if it is "costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work."
In most instances, the employer advises the applicant or employee of its dress code or grooming policy, and the applicant or employee responds that an exception is needed for religious reasons. The applicant or employee need not use any "magic words" to make the request such as "accommodation" or "Title VII," the EEOC says.
In some instances, even if a request is not made, it will be obvious that an employee or job applicant's practice is religious and conflicts with a work policy, so that accommodation is needed, the federal agency says.