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Businesses must follow anti-discrimination laws in employee policies

When new and experienced business owners are crafting employee policies, there are many federal laws to keep in mind, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion. Employers are required under federal law to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees’ religious beliefs if they are sincerely held.

A current lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Taco Bell claims that the company violated that law. The EEOC filed the lawsuit on behalf of a man who is a practicing Nazirite. This man’s religion requires him to leave his hair uncut. The man worked for Taco Bell for six years and did not cut his hair during that time. Taco Bell eventually told him he had to cut his hair or he would be fired.

He was twenty-five when he was fired for refusing that demand and he had not cut his hair since he was 15. It is possible he also did not brush his hair during that time because The Blog of LegalTimes reports that some Nazirites also do not brush their hair because it can make the hair fall out. That detail is not known for sure in this specific man’s case.

Taco Bell has an employee policy that requires strict personal grooming practices. These practices need to provide exceptions or accommodations for employees’ religious beliefs, but not necessarily if those beliefs are threatening public health or violating health codes. The court will have the more specific details of the case and will be able to evaluate whether Taco Bell gave the man other options or whether they could have done more to accommodate his beliefs.

Source: The BLT, “A Hairy EEOC Fight for Taco Bell,” Jenna Greene, 28 July 2011

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