Can You Ask an Employee to Not Wear a Religious Cross to Work?
The laws governing employment are designed to provide employees with equal employment opportunities, regardless of race, religion, gender and other considerations. Employment laws specifically prohibit discrimination in any form against workers. Although the law furnishes allowances for many facets of business, employers cannot typically ban articles of religious significance, such as a religious cross, from being worn at work. Business environments can be kept positive and free of employment problems with a little knowledge
At-will employment is a condition placed upon employees by many companies. It is usually represented by a written document that employees are required to sign delineating that, in effect, the employee and business have no contract in place guaranteeing employment and that the associate is free to quit his job at any time. Conversely, the employer can terminate a worker’s employment at any time with or without cause. One of the exceptions to this rule -- religious discrimination -- prevents companies from wrongfully terminating employees based on religion.
Under certain circumstances, a business with a dress code or grooming standards may decline to honor a team member’s request to wear a religious cross to work. One of these circumstances is if by doing so the employee will cause an undue hardship affecting the business’s operation. “Undue hardship” is defined as "an action requiring significant difficulty or expense." This means that the business would be required to prove that through the wearing of a cross or other religious item, the employee caused consequential and burdensome monetary and business difficulties. Undue hardship may be difficult to prove and is decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis.
Employers are within their rights when asking a worker to refrain from wearing religious jewelry and articles if wearing the items presents a safety or health concern. For example, a safety hazard might present itself for an employee who operates equipment on a production line if her necklace becomes caught in the machinery. Additionally, serious health concerns may ensue if the jewelry is made of a substance that creates volatile fumes if accidentally dropped into chemicals where employees are working. Policies disallowing jewelry while working should apply to all workers performing the same or similar jobs, not just to those wearing pieces with religious significance.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that, when asked for by an employee, "reasonable accommodation" be made to allow the associate to observe religious beliefs, such as wearing a cross. A reasonable accommodation refers to making an exception to an internal policy if the employee can demonstrate a need for the accommodation, and that the request is being made because of a conflict between work and the worker’s religious beliefs. For example, a production line worker may want an accommodation because of a deeply held belief that removing a religious cross would be detrimental to her spiritual convictions. A reasonable accommodation might be to transfer the employee from the production line to an administrative position so the wearing of a cross will not interfere with her work.