Does safety take a back seat to religious beliefs?
Q: We have a job opening in our manufacturing facility and one of the applicants came to the interview wearing a khimar, a religious garment that covers her hair and forehead, and hangs loosely over her upper body. We have a strict dress code policy that prohibits employees from wearing loose- fitting clothing near the kind of machinery that she would be assigned to. Can we reject her from employment because she wears a khimar?
A: Not necessarily. Although you can enforce a dress code when there is a legitimate business-related reason for doing so, you shouldn’t assume that this applicant will be wearing the khimar at work. Obviously there’s a safety concern with allowing someone with loose-fitting clothing to work near machinery and you don’t need to allow an exception for an employee’s religious belief or preference. However, you don’t know if those are her intentions at this point and you don’t want to reject her from employment simply because she wore a khimar to the interview. If she’s the applicant that you plan on hiring, you should make her the job offer and then discuss your dress code policy with her. If she intends on wearing the khimar to her job, you should engage in a discussion with her to see if there’s anything else you can do to accommodate her religious belief. If making an exception to your dress code policy is the only accommodation option, then she won’t be able to work in that position and you’re okay to rescind the job offer. For more discussion, see our Legal Guide, “Religious Accommodation in the Workplace” (1147).