We hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, and were able to spend time with family and friends while reflecting on the many blessings of our lives. Now, back to our regularly scheduled weirdness!
This year, the weekend had a religious aspect for many, as Hanukkah and Thanksgiving overlapped (creating the legendary Thanksgivukkah), so perhaps it’s appropriate that religion played such a major part in November’s employment law cases.
A circuit court of appeals reaffirmed the termination of a Muslim employee of Abercrombie & Fitch for wearing a headscarf, which violated their “look policy.” While a lower court had ruled that A&F had discriminated against the employee’s religion, this court reversed that decision, stating that the onus was on the employee for notifying her employer of any religious-based accommodations she’d need. You can help avoid misunderstandings and lawsuits by explaining your company’s policies to applicants, especially if appearance and dress is a crucial part of the job. (Note: A&F has since changed their policy, and now allows salespeople to wear headscarves.)
In other headscarf news, a Muslim employee of an Albuquerque hotel was terminated for wearing a head-covering while working as a housekeeper. The EEOC sued on her behalf, and the lawsuit was recently settled for $100,000. And elsewhere on the grooming front, a Seattle man was awarded $66,000 in back pay after being fired for refusing to shave his closely trimmed beard for religious reasons. One takeaway from these cases is that, in general, allowing someone to cover her head or sport a beard is a fairly minor accommodation to make.
Not all requests are so minimal, though. In Nebraska, a federal judge ruled that the accommodations requested by a group of 80-100 Somali workers in a beef processing plant would have met the requirements of “creating an undue hardship” on the business. The employer was able to demonstrate, using empirical data, that granting these requests would have endangered the safety, efficiency, sanitization and morale of the plant as a whole.
Also in the “kind of a big deal” category is attempting to push religion on an employee, or being derogatory towards a co-worker’s religion. It’s okay for a boss to question an employee about their performance, attendance or attitude. But it’s definitely not okay for a boss to question an employee about the marital status of their relationship, to preach to them about the wisdom of a religious figure or to call them a “crapster” (what does that even mean??). And on the opposite side of that coin, it’s not okay for someone to call a co-worker a “whacko” for their religious beliefs, or use their deity’s name in conjunction with a lot of profanity. Live and let live, people.
If you’ve been wondering exactly what “clothes” are, we’ve got good news. The Supreme Court of the US heard arguments last month on what constitutes worn equipment required for work as opposed to just clothing. Why are they pondering this? Because that definition is central to how much time employees in many industries spend getting into and out of work… um… apparel, and whether or not they should be paid for that that time. A verdict is expected later this month.
So often in this series, we report that many of the sentiments posted on Facebook about an employer are ruled to be protected speech. But there’s at least one exception: when those posts constitute 2 or more employees planning to undermine their employer’s mission very deliberately. In this case, their employer was a nonprofit organization that provides youth, adult and family programs, so stay classy there, terminated employees.
Of course, sometimes the “stay classy” advice should be given to a manager. Such as the one who snooped into a former employee’s Gmail account and read an estimated *48,000* email messages, many of which were about her personal life. The employee had turned in her company-issued Blackberry when she left her employer, believing that its data would be erased. However, her manager did not erase the data and instead snooped in her Gmail for the next 18 months – and even forwarded some of the employee’s messages to his co-workers! The case was recently settled out of court.
And finally, here’s one of the worst sexual harassment cases we’ve read about (and we’ve been doing this for years!). Don’t say we didn’t warn you.