Headscarves are an essential part of female dress for several religions and cultures. Whether you are a devout follower of a religion that prizes female modesty or you are an active participant in a culture where headscarves are common, you have a legal right to wear your headscarf at work under most California employers. Dress codes and managers that prohibit or attempt to prohibit the wearing of headscarves can be proven unlawful through a few different legal approaches.
Today, we’re here to talk about how to defend your right to wear a headscarf at work and how to prove if your employer is unlawfully discriminating against you for your religion, culture, or gender.
Federal Freedom of Religious Expression
It is federal law according to the EEOC that employees have a right to groom themselves and wear specific garments in accordance with their religious traditions. Despite the fact that employers try to get around this law in a number of different ways to maintain their preferred workforce “look” or to subtly enforce cultural bias, ultimately the law is on your side. Remember this any time an employer tries to make you remove your headscarf or expresses that your options will be limited if you insist on maintaining your religious or cultural modesty.
According to the EEOC, employees must be allowed to wear or display religious items of clothing and adornment, and specific grooming requirements provided it does not reduce the safety of the workplace. We’ll go into safety exceptions later.
Dress Code vs Manager Policies
First and foremost, check the actual written dress code in the employee handbook or your company’s equivalent. If headscarves, hats, or hairstyles are not mentioned in a way that would ban wearing a headscarf, your manager is just being a jerk. Many dress code conflicts have been discovered to be managers rather than actual company policy, and only company policy can legally be enforced. If headscarves are not mentioned or alluded to in the handbook, you may be able to report your discriminatory manager to HR for asking you to remove your headscarf at work. Your company may step in and defend your rights, as they had no intention as an organization to deny them.
“Look Policies” Must be Lenient
The biggest clash with headscarves has come in hospitality and other customer-facing positions where employees are expected to maintain the ‘brand look’ while on the job. Non-religious employees and those with religions that have no dress requirements must follow the company’s dress code for hair style, head coverings (hats or no hats), and so on. However; headscarves, yarmulkes, Rastafarian dreadlocks, and other religious head stylings must be respected in the workplace despite the company’s “Look Policy” for most staff.
On an interesting note: Your employer can tell you what color of headscarf to wear to match your uniform. They might even be able to dictate the material or sheen of your headscarf. A very progressively restrictive company might even provide you with a company-approved headscarf for work hours. But they cannot force you to take it off or wear something else on your head that defies your religious tenets.
Gender Discriminating Dress Codes
Then there are also workplaces that handle the headscarf issue very badly be banning them as a female-only dress code policy. Because headscarves are connected to some tender current political issues, prejudiced employers may try to put a blanket ban on headscarves in the women’s side of the dress code while leaving things like yarmulkes for males permitted because it does not connect to their personal biases.
In this case, you can call to either unfair religious rules or to gender discrimination. Keeping women from respecting their religious tenets while allowing men to maintain their traditions is uniquely unfair.
Discrimination Through Position
Finally, watch out for policies that allow headscarves, but try to keep them “out of sight“. Several hotels have been cited as allowing female employees to wear headscarves, but limiting their opportunities away from the front desk or customer-facing positions. This often means relegating religious women to menial behind-the-scenes labor which is yet another form of religious workplace discrimination.\
The Safety Exception
There is exactly one exception to freedom of religious dress in the workplace: Safety. Like long loose hair, headscarves do pose a certain risk when working in some environments. Particularly those involving machinery or face-gear. This is applied across the board for men and women (positions that requirement to be clean-shaven for safety, as an example) and is something that those with religious adornment must deal with. However, there may be acceptable accommodations you and your employer can agree on. For example, you may be able to wear an under-scarf (a tight sleeve that covers your head and neck below a headscarf) to maintain your religious modesty while working in hazardous environments.
Is your workplace asking you to remove your headscarf while on the job or while working with customers? If so, they are most likely violating more than one federal law determined by the EEOC. Here at Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we specialize in helping women and men just like you who want to maintain their religious freedom in the workplace. You shouldn’t have to deal with prejudiced bosses or unreasonable “look policy” dress codes and we can help.
Contact us today to find out more about how legal action can force an employer to shape up and provide fair policies for men and women of all religious and cultural backgrounds. Our legal team can help you get justice and fair policies for yourself and for all past, present, and future colleagues who will face the same challenges in your workplace.