Discrimination and harassment in the workplace are prohibited in any form in order to protect the rights and interests of employees. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which was passed referring to the US Supreme Court decisions, employment discrimination based on individuals’ age, race, gender, disability, religion, or ethnicity is viewed as illegal (Remington et al., 2012). The case known as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) & Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores provides the implications for understanding how discrimination based on religion can be realized by employers (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013). The purpose of this paper is to examine the issues faced by Umme-Hani Khan when working for Abercrombie & Fitch, assess the nature of the company’s actions, evaluate the case in terms of the law, and assess the potential actions of the HR director at Abercrombie & Fitch.
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Specific Issues Encountered by Umme-Hani Khan
Umme-Hani Khan, a 19-year-old Muslim girl wearing a headscarf, started to work at the Hollister store (Abercrombie & Fitch’s brand) in 2009. She was asked by the manager to change her hijab to a headscarf in the colors of Hollister. Khan accepted this condition and continued working in the store’s stockroom. However, the second issue that she encountered in 2010 was related to the necessity of removing her hijab because, according to the company’s managers, it violated the accepted dress code. The focus was on following a certain look policy accepted at Abercrombie & Fitch’s stores (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013). When Khan refused to avoid wearing the hijab at work because of her religious views and beliefs, she was fired.
Assessment of Abercrombie & Fitch’s Actions
It is possible to state that the actions of Abercrombie & Fitch directly represent certain types of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The problem is that, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, it is forbidden for employers to discriminate against their workers on a basis of their religion (Harrison, 2016). The wearing of a headscarf is critical for Muslim women as a demonstration of their religion and beliefs. Discrimination according to this aspect is illegal when it is observed in the workplace (Robinson, 2016). At first, Khan was treated unfairly by the managers of the company when she was asked to use the hijab in the colors of the brand. However, in spite of the fact that she agreed to comply with the rules of the company’s look policy, the girl was later asked to take off her headscarf, and she could not work in the store until obeying the request (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013). This behavior of the store managers represents direct discrimination and harassment against a female Muslim employee because of her religion.
The Elements of Law Critical for Abercrombie & Fitch
In their practice, it is important for Abercrombie & Fitch to consider some elements of law that are related to the legislation against discrimination. According to the statements of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and other anti-discriminatory employment laws, individuals are allowed to wear certain clothes that can demonstrate their religious beliefs at work (Kaminer, 2017; Remington et al., 2012). As a result, employers have no legal rights to prohibit employees to wear the hijab or other elements of clothing associated with religious views. However, there are certain circumstances when the look of employees is critical for the business success (King, 2016; (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013)). Abercrombie & Fitch supported their position and actions toward Khan with reference to the rule that the look policy and associated rules can be regarded as essential and non-discriminatory when compliance or non-compliance with these rules is critical for the business success.
There are situations mentioned in the legislation when the look policy is significant for guaranteeing a company’s success, and it should be integrated into a business model. Nevertheless, the situation discussed in the case is not associated with this rule because Khan’s violation of the policy was grounded in her religious beliefs, and moreover, she did not work with consumers directly (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2013). As a result, Khan’s look could not impact the sales in the store.
Actions to Take by the HR Director in Response to the Situation
In order to adequately respond to Umme-Hani Khan’s situation, it was necessary to avoid requesting the girl to remove her hijab after she had agreed to use the headscarf of a specific color. Still, if the situation occurred, it was unacceptable to insist on taking off the hijab when Khan refused to remove it. In this case, it was possible to avoid the development of the conflict. In addition, the discussed situation could be prevented by means of the strategy developed by the HR director (Kaminer, 2017). Thus, to prevent the situation, it was necessary to design and implement an effective non-discriminatory look policy to be applied in the company’s stores. It was necessary to address the interests of the representatives of different cultural and religious groups and promote diversity with the help of developing an effective policy (Remington et al., 2012). The non-discriminatory conditions of wearing the hijab and other elements of religion-related clothes should be reflected in the policy. Furthermore, all these conditions and requirements should be presented only as recommendations.
In order to prevent similar situations in the future, it is also necessary to improve the approach to hiring employees in terms of discussing the aspects of their employment during the interview. The possibility to change the color of the hijab to reflect the brand colors should be discussed during the first interview. In addition, the requirements related to the look policy of employees of different categories should also differ, depending on their impact on the business model’s success (Harrison, 2016; King, 2016). This information should be presented to potential candidates in advance (Remington et al., 2012). Still, the main condition to follow in revising the policy is the focus on diversity and avoidance of discrimination in any form.
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The case analysis indicates that subtle or evident discrimination based on religious views can be observed in the workplace even today, in spite of courts’ efforts in addressing these issues. The EEOC’s task is to monitor the cases, in which the rights of employees are violated, and discrimination and harassment are present in the workplace. The discussed case of Umme-Hani Khan against Abercrombie & Fitch represents how it is possible to protect an employee’s interests and rights. Therefore, Abercrombie & Fitch was regarded as liable for demonstrating religious discrimination against Khan who had refused to take off the hijab.
Harrison, K. A. (2016). Hiding under the veil of dress policy: Muslim women, hijab, and employment discrimination in the United States. Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, 17, 831-860.
Kaminer, D. (2017). Religious accommodation in the American workplace: The consequences of the Supreme Court decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch. Journal of Law, Religion and State, 5(1), 25-47.
King, E. (2016). EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc.: Religious accommodation in the workplace. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 37, 327-415.
Remington, J., Heiser, R. T., Smythe, C., & Sovereign, K. (2012). Human resources law (5th ed.). Prentice Hall.
Robinson, R. S. (2016). Hijab in the American workplace: Visibility and discrimination. Culture and Religion, 17(3), 332-351.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2013). Abercrombie & Fitch liable for religious discrimination in EEOC suit, court says. EEOC.gov. Web.