Fear the Beard: EEOC Sues Employer Who Wouldn’t Allow Facial Hair

beard facial hair eeoc alabama employment law
An employee who claims his beard is part of a sincerely held religious belief can be protected by Title VII — even if he doesn’t belong to a formal religious denomination.

Employees who do not belong to a formal religious denomination can still have sincerely held religious beliefs protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

I just received a press release from the EEOC, which is suing an employer who refused to allow an employee to wear a beard. The employee asked for a religious accommodation but admitted he did not belong to formal religious denomination. Nevertheless, he claimed to hold a Christian belief that men must wear beards. The employer denied the request for accommodation because the employee was unable to provide additional substantiation of his beliefs or a supporting statement from a certified or documented religious leader.

Many times, employers will think that an employee is “inventing” a religious belief to avoid work requirements. But, refusing to take religious accommodation claims seriously can be dangerous. That’s because the EEOC takes the position that “religion” is very broadly defined for purposes of Title VII. According the EEOC: “The presence of a deity or deities is not necessary for a religion to receive protection under Title VII. Religious beliefs can include unique beliefs held by a few or even one individual; however, mere personal preferences are not religious beliefs. ”

Obviously, I don’t know all of the facts of this case. And, the EEOC can be selective in the facts that it includes in a press release. But, this announcement should help employers understand that they need to take all religious accommodation requests seriously.