Must an employer accommodate an employee request to wear a religious head covering when all other employees in the workplace must wear specific hats to identify themselves to customers?

Author: Jill Gormley, Strong and Clear Communications

No. An employer does not need to accommodate an employee's request to wear a religious head covering if there is a business need for all employees to wear specific hats to identify themselves as employees. An employer should evaluate whether hats are essential to identify employees to customers, and consider whether other options, such as shirts with logos or name tags, might serve the same purpose. However, if changing the hat requirement would cause an undue hardship for the employer and create more than a minimal burden - for example, providing shirts for a large workforce is more expensive than providing hats or there is a safety reason for wearing the hats - the employer may deny the employee's request for an accommodation. If an employer seeks to have all employees wear such hats, in order to avoid claims of religious discrimination, the employer should notify all employees and prospective employees of the uniform requirements, including the employer's policy of having employees wear the hats. The employer should strictly enforce the policy and apply it evenly to all employees.