It’s common for a large company to have bylaws and processes to follow throughout their organization. Bureaucracy keeps a uniform approach across multiple offices and time zones and keeps the brand universal when different people are running the show. Sometimes those rules are a little too rigid, though, and they suppress individual rights.
No company policy should violate protected rights, including the right to established religious practices. A recent settlement with J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. emphasizes the need for allowances within procedure — exceptions to the rule when religious practices don’t match exactly with internal policy.
Maintaining Uncut Hair
Four Sikh truck drivers applied for jobs with the freight giant J.B. Hunt but were denied because they refused to provide hair samples for the company’s drug tests. Drug tests are common within the transport industry, but the hair-sample method violates a Sikh principle to maintain uncut hair. The applicants requested alternate testing, but the transport company denied them, leading to a filing with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which handles discrimination cases. The parties settled out of court for a sum of $260,000.
The problem, in this case, was that J.B. Hunt denied the positions based on a refusal to take the drug test when, in fact, the Sikh applicants requested an alternate test that would not conflict with their religion.
Under federal law, employers are required to make religious accommodations as long as they are reasonable. An alternate drug test would have fit these criteria but, instead of allowing it, J.B. Hunt denied the Sikhs’ applications.
Religion, race, national origin, age, and gender are protected classes under federal law, meaning that it’s illegal for an employer to make hiring or firing decisions based on these factors. While religious practices sometimes conflict with an employee handbook’s emphasis on a hiring process or dress code, that does not grant an employer the right to deny religious practices. Exception needs to be made as long as it’s a reasonable request, such as using an alternate test or providing a quiet space for daily prayer.
For more on related employment law matters, please read The Zoldan Law Group’s workplace discrimination overview.