Can my employer require me to wear pants rather than a skirt?

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Question:

My religious beliefs require women to dress modestly, and to wear skirts or dresses rather than pants. I work for a sporting goods store, and the owner recently decided that all employees would have to wear a uniform of black pants and a black and white striped referee's shirt. Can they force me to wear pants, even if it conflicts with my religion? 

Answer:

In this situation, the law is on your side. Title VII, the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, requires employers not only to avoid discriminating based on religion, but also to reasonably accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of their employees. 

If complying with your employer's uniform policy would conflict with your religious beliefs, you should ask for an accommodation. The burden of requesting an exception to the rules is on you. Your employer may not know about your beliefs or what they require. Although certain types of garb (such as a crucifix, yarmulke, or hijab) are widely known to have religious connotations, your employer may not realize that wearing a skirt or dress rather than pants is anything more than your personal style preference. So, you should meet with the owner or your manager and explain why you need an exception to the uniform requirement. 

Your employer must grant the request unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. It doesn't sound like there would be any hardship for your employer. Presumably, you have been doing your job just fine in clothing of your choice. While the employer's goals of allowing customers to easily identify employees and creating a sports-themed company brand are sound, those goals can still be met if you wear a long white skirt rather than pants with your referee's shirt. 

Sometimes, an employer has important safety reasons for imposing uniform or grooming requirements. In these cases, it might be impossible to accommodate an employee who, for example, won't cover a long beard in a laboratory clean room or has flowing religious garments that could easily get caught in machinery. But it doesn't sound like your employer has safety concerns. Although it has legitimate business reasons for imposing its uniform policy, requiring you to comply would constitute religious discrimination. 

For more information, see the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Religious Garb and Grooming in the Workplace: Rights and Responsibilities. You can also find more information and articles at our Religious Discrimination page. 

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