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Make room for accommodations when drafting employee contracts

Employers need to make sure they are properly incorporating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other federal employment laws, into their employees’ contracts and employee handbooks as well as in hiring policies. A federal judge recently decided in favor of a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused the retail chain of discriminating against a job applicant through their corporate “look policy.”

The look policy prohibited head scarves. The hiring manager saw that the job applicant arrived to her interview wearing a head scarf and decided that she could not work for the corporation for that reason. The young woman wore the head scarf for religious reasons and the EEOC said that the employer needed to make room in its policy for employees or potential employees who would wear certain items because of their religious beliefs.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a federal agency that enforces federal employment laws. In this case the agency believed that the corporation’s employee look policy or dress code violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition on employment discrimination due to religious beliefs. Under this law employers can also not discriminate on the basis of race, sex or national origin. The EEOC also enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on age or disability.

When employers draft employee policies they need to follow federal law and make sure that they are not discriminating against current or potential employees for a protected status. In this case, the EEOC said that Abercrombie & Fitch needs to allow exceptions in a dress code for religious clothing. Employers need to provide reasonable accommodations in interviews and policies for other protected groups, too, such as disabled job applicants.

This case occurred in Tulsa. A jury will decide what damages are owed by Abercrombie & Fitch in the case later.

Source: KTUL.com, “Court Agrees With EEOC in Head Scarf Discrimination Lawsuit,” Natalie Andes, 16 July 2011

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