What are an employees rights regarding their religious customs and a company dress code?

UPDATED: Oct 19, 2011

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What are an employees rights regarding their religious customs and a company dress code?

I want to work for the national park service as a park ranger. They have a required dress code – no tattoos/piercings, dreadlocks etc. Seeing as how I am voluntarily applying for a job with them, do I have any legal grounds to say it’s my personal or religious (Rastafarian) right to refuse to cut my hair?

Asked on October 19, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Connecticut


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

There is no definitive answer: it depends on circumstances. Employees and prospective employees have had success in forcing modifications of dress codes (or other rules--like whether you work on Friday night, Saturday, or Sunday) based on religion: for example, male Orthodox Jews would be allowed to wear yamulkes even in situations when hats are not otherwise allowed; female muslims have won the right to wear their coverings.

There are two main issues:

1) The dress code infraction in question must be mandated by the religion itself, and not merely be customary among its followers. For example, say that most members of a certain protestant church had themselves tatooed with a picture of Jesus. If such a tatoo was not actually required by their faith, but was simply custom at their church, their likely would be no protection for it.

2) There must be a way for the dress code infraction to be safely accomodatated. For example, I have never seen a religious muslim woman as a lifeguard at a public pool or beach--there is no way to safely reconcile the dress code with the need to dive into the water without warning or delay.

In your case--and not knowing anything about your faith, this may be an ignorant question; if so, I apologize--if the long hair is simply a custom and not a religious commandment, you probably cannot fight a requirement for short hair. Or even if it is a religious requirement, if it would pose serious issues on the job--e.g. it could get caught in brambles or branches, could be potentially snagged by a wild animal, etc.--then it may still be the case that you could be required to cut it.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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