I am a member of a local church, and I recently made the decision to take steps to live more fully in accordance with my religious convictions. Among other things, I'm beginning to adopt a more modest form of dress (including covering my hair and body) and incorporating several daily prayer sessions in my schedule. One of these prayer sessions must take place at 10 a.m.; my clothing choices may also affect my work, as we have a uniform requirement that does not allow employees to wear caps or other head coverings. How should I raise these issues with my manager?
If your employer has at least 15 employees, Title VII (a federal law) protects you from religious discrimination in the workplace. Most states have a similar law, and many of them apply to smaller employers. (To find out your state's rules, select it from our Discrimination and Harassment page.) These laws don't only prohibit discrimination; they also require employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow their employees to practice their religion.
The first step is to request an accommodation. Ask your manager to meet with you. Explain that you would like an accommodation to allow you to practice your religion at work. Your manager may not be familiar with your church, and the law doesn't require employers to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every religion. So, be prepared to explain what your beliefs require and which workplace rules might have to be bent to allow you to practice your beliefs. Your manager is entitled to ask questions and seek clarification about your beliefs and how they conflict with work requirements.
Feel free to suggest accommodations that you this will work. For example, you might ask for an exception to the uniform requirement so you can wear a head covering, and for a 15-minute break every morning at 10 a.m. so you can pray.
Your employer is not legally obligated to grant the exact accommodation you request, but it must try to come up with an accommodation that will work. Your employer is also entitled to ask for more information, if necessary to clarify what you need. Especially if your religious beliefs are not within the mainstream, your employer might ask you to provide literature explaining the morning prayers, for example, or for more information from you as to the type of head coverings that are acceptable to your faith.
You are legally entitled to an accommodation unless it creates an undue hardship: a more than minimal cost to the operation of the employer's business. This cost might be measurable in dollars and cents, but it doesn't have to be. In your situation, for example, the company might have to change its weekly staff meeting from 10 a.m. to a different time to accommodate your prayer. If this change would greatly inconvenience other employees, or if 10 a.m. is the only time everyone can get together, this might create an undue hardship.
Hopefully, you and your manager will be able to come up with some options that will allow you to practice your religion as you wish and will not be too burdensome for the company.