Religious Discrimination and the WRFA: Connecting the Dots

Last week’s News Roundup highlighted several religious discrimination cases that grabbed headlines from Oregon to Sweden. However, there was one case in particular that caught my eye in light of the renewed energy on Capitol Hill around the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA). 

First, let me give you a little background on the WRFA. The current bill, first introduced more than a decade ago, would require employers to accommodate an employee's religious requests regarding attire, grooming, and the scheduling of holidays unless it presents more than a "significant difficulty” for the employer. This would be a dramatic increase from the de minimis requirements currently outlined in Title VII.
As Lauren E. Bohn of the Religion News Service noted, “the bill has taken on added urgency in an increasingly multicultural country” especially in the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent backlash against Muslim and Sikhs that has translated into an increase in discrimination complaints.

This “added urgency” sheds a new light on a recent decision regarding grooming. In Michigan, a federal district court judge dismissed a Muslim police officer’s case, saying his request to “wear his beard longer than permitted by police department policy” couldn’t be accommodated without imposing an undue burden on the city.
This is certainly not the first time we have blogged about a Muslim employee suing his or her employer for discrimination. However, this case could hold a different weight in light of the recent action around the WRFA.
If the bill were passed, a Muslim police offer might be allowed to keep his beard without having to fear termination or a Jehovah’s Witness may no longer be denied the ability to miss work in order to attend a religious function.  While Tanenbaum does not take a position on the bill, we are sure that, at the very least, new conversations would begin in workplaces addressing the intricacies of creating inclusive work environments on these matters and others, like proselytizing.