What can “Brown” do for you? Apparently, consistently discriminate against you in the workplace if you have religious obligations that conflict with its appearance policy. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is of the opinion that UPS (the aforementioned “Brown”) is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In fact, the EEOC sued UPS to end discriminatory practices.
Title VII bans workplace discrimination based on religion. It also requires that employees are given reasonable accommodations for their sincerely held religious beliefs unless such accommodations put an undue hardship on the employer.
Enter United Parcel Service and its policy that male employees who either have customer contact or are in supervisory positions cannot have beards or grow their hair below collar length, even if the employees’ religious beliefs prohibit shaving and cutting their hair. The EEOC claims that, under this policy, UPS has refused to hire or promote these employees and refused to provide the required accommodations.
Of course, UPS insists that it has a “proven record for accommodation” and “is confident in the legality of its employment practices.”
Unfortunately for UPS, the EEOC has a list of examples showing otherwise. The examples include:
- A Muslim man being told he had to shave his beard if he wanted a driver helper position. When he explained that the beard was part of his religious observance, he was told that “God would understand” if he shaved it to get the job. His other option was to apply for a lower-paying position if he kept his beard.
- A Rastafarian part-time load supervisor asked for an accommodation in order to keep his long hair, which is a religious observance. His supervisor told him that he didn’t want “want any employees looking like women on (his) management team.”
These are not isolated examples, either. The EEOC has records showing that Rastafarians, Muslims and Christians whose religious observances violate UPS’ appearance policy often wait months, even years, for accommodations. In the meantime, they are forced to comply with the appearance policy or lose their jobs.
The EEOC’s attempts at a pre-litigation settlement were unsuccessful and it filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EEOC v. United Parcel Service; Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-04141. The suit seeks a change in UPS’ policy, lost wages and compensatory & punitive damages.
The regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office, Robert D. Rose, said, “UPS has persistently enforced its appearance policy even when that policy conflicts with the religious beliefs of its applicants and employees. No person should be forced to choose between their religion and a paycheck, and EEOC will seek to put an end to that longstanding practice at UPS.”
Go, Mr. Rose and the EEOC! In a time when religion has more often been used as a club to beat down instead of inspiration to lift up, such antiquated policies as UPS has must be changed. Truthfully, the older I get, the less I think in terms of “appearance = professionalism or skill.”
I’m a bearded, longhair and not only do I have a Juris Doctor, I work as a Department of Defense contractor. The projects on which I work would suffer if I was forced to choose between appearance and a job as, in some cases, there are an extremely limited number of individuals who have my expertise.
While I’m not suggesting that employees should be allowed to come to work in bikinis or “banana hammocks,” allowing them to maintain an appearance that aligns with their identity would make for happier, more productive employees. Furthermore, denying such freedoms when they are expressly required by someone’s religion is just plain wrong.