Back in 2008, Samantha Elauf, a young Muslim woman, applied for a sales floor position at clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch. As part of her religious practice, she wore her headscarf to the interview. Throughout the interview process she performed well and received high remarks. However, her headscarf violated the clothing retailer’s “preppy” Look Policy, which prohibits headwear of any kind. Consequently she did not receive a job offer, and the case quickly went to court.
A lower court ruled that the employer was not liable because Elauf never explicitly stated she wore the headscarf for religious purposes. This argument places the burden on the job applicant to notify the employer of a need for a religious accommodation.
On June 1st, the Supreme Court reversed this ruling with an eight-to-one decision. The court stated that an employee does not have to specifically ask for a religious accommodation, nor does an employer have to be certain that a religious accommodation is even required, only that the employer’s religious beliefs was a “motivating factor” in the employer’s negative decision. (http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/06/victory-for-religious-rights-in-the-workplace-in-plain-english/)
Key takeaway for employers: An individual’s religious practices can never be a motivating factor in hiring decisions. That does not mean an employer has to accommodate everybody’s religious needs. Sometimes it is infeasible for an employer to grant a religious accommodation, in which case they can argue that it creates an undue hardship. As always, transparency is imperative when presenting work policies to potential employees.
For navigating religious accommodation concerns or to discuss how to craft an effective and non-discriminatory interview and hiring process do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law Group.