Question: Can an employer fire an employee if he/she refuses to wear a Halloween costume (to work) because it is against his/her religion? Is it legal for the employers to do that? What is the law about this matter?
Answer: “No, an employer cannot terminate the employment of an employee who refuses to wear a Halloween costume due to the employee’s sincerely held religious belief,” said Ryan Sanada, director of legal and government affairs for the Hawaii Employers Council, a member association that addresses a wide range of personnel matters. “Under both Title VII and Hawaii law, employers are actually required to accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious belief that conflicts with something in the workplace, unless doing so would result in an undue hardship (for the employer). Therefore, if an employee prefers not to participate in Halloween festivities or dress up in costume due to a sincerely held religious belief, the employer should provide such an accommodation to the employee.
“On top of the legal restrictions against firing an employee who is asserting a sincerely held religious belief, I would also add some practical considerations into the discussion. I strongly believe in maintaining a workforce full of happy employees. Therefore, I would advise against threatening to fire an employee simply because the individual does not want to wear a Halloween costume during Halloween,” said Sanada, who blogs about Hawaii labor and employment law at hilaborlaw.com.
“Finally, any company that is considering firing an employee for not wearing a Halloween costume to work should first consult with a knowledgeable HR consultant or employment attorney to learn about the risks involved with making such a decision,” he said.
As Sanada noted, Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin or sex.
The law is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which makes clear in its Compliance Manual that an employee’s request for religious accommodation should be assumed sincere, unless objective evidence indicates otherwise. Then an employer may seek more information, proceeding carefully. For example, an employer “should not assume that an employee is insincere simply because some of his or her practices deviate from the commonly followed tenets of his or her religion.”
“Undue hardship” for the employer, on the other hand, is more narrowly defined under the law, meaning that the employee’s refusal to comply with a workplace directive on religious grounds must pose more than a minimal burden on the employer.
You can read more at 808ne.ws/EEOCsincere, which is Section 12 of the EEOC’s Compliance Manual, covering religious discrimination. For a summary of different types of religious discrimination (although not your exact concern), see 808ne.ws/EEOCexamples.
Citizens Police Academy
Kokua Line receives many questions and “auwes” from readers who bemoan littering, graffiti, trespassing and other offenses that take a toll on the quality of life on Oahu. Many ask what laws might be enforced in those situations, or suggest ones that they believe should be.
For those civic-minded folks willing to get a little more involved, here’s an opportunity to interact directly with the Honolulu Police Department: Join the Citizens Police Academy.
HPD is accepting applications now, which can be downloaded at 808ne.ws/hpdcitizens. Applicants must be at least 18 and pass a background check. For more information, call HPD’s Community Affairs Division at 723-3475.
HPD created the program to promote understanding and interaction between the police and the public by educating citizens about HPD policies and operations, the criminal justice system, and ways to prevent and reduce crime, according to an HPD news release. Topics include criminal investigation, evidence recovery, narcotics, SWAT, firearms training and police vehicle operation.
Participants generally meet for three or four hours a week over the course of 11 weeks.
Write to “Kokua Line” at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Terms of Service. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. Report comments if you believe they do not follow our guidelines.
Having trouble with comments? Learn more here.
I can understand not wanting to dress up for Halloween, but I have a co-worker who claims he’s a devout Jehovah’s Witness and he constantly makes excuses why he can’t perform certain functions because of his faith. He calls in sick a lot on Mondays because he’s spent all day Saturday knocking on doors and all day Sunday worshipping or doing whatever else JWs do on Sundays. If I understand the article correctly, that would define “undue hardship” on our employer since his co-workers need to pick up the slack either when he calls in sick or simply fails to perform certain duties. Not sure why he’s still employed.
Yeah, would be funny if they forced a Jehovah’s Witnesses member to wear a devil costume, but some jobs such as working in a haunted house require those outfits as part of their job description. Maybe make them dress up as a zombie Jesus who was just resurrected instead.
“HPD created the program to promote understanding and interaction between the police and the public by educating citizens about HPD policies and operations, the criminal justice system, and ways to prevent and reduce crime, according to an HPD news release.”
If a person had more confidence in the police chief, this might be a really good thing. Sadly though, my first reaction to this is to wonder whether the program isn’t simply a way to improve the image of a terribly-unimproved Chief…