Rastafarians have a religious right to have long dreadlocks or wear caps at work

The EEOC filed yet another suit in federal court claiming that termination or refusing to hire Rastafarians with dreadlocks or long hair violated federal employment discrimination laws. In this Florida case, a hospitality company fired a Rastafarian cook at a Walt Disney World Resort serving the military and veterans resort after he refused to cut his dreadlocks because of his religion. He was employed for nearly a year and half before he was ordered to cut his hair as a result of a site visit from “corporate” inspecting employee appearance standards. He was not alone as two other employees with long hair were also required to cut their hair.

The EEOC also brought an action last year against New York’s UPS accusing it of failing to hire or promote individuals whose religious practices conflict with its appearance policy, including Rastafarians and Muslims. EEOC recently settled suit against a North Carolina-based beer distributor accused of discriminating against a Rastafarian delivery driver candidate who wouldn’t cut his hair. The beer distributor paid the employment candidate $50,000, will make company policy changes subject itself to inspection by the EEOC, will post notices around its workplace and provide discrimination training programs for employees.

Small businesses are not immune. EEOC also filed suit against a small North Carolina catering company with discrimination claims for allegedly unlawfully terminating a Rastafarian delivery driver who insisted on wearing a small hat “to keep a lid on his spiritual energy.”

The take-away is to be culturally sensitive in your employee appearance policies. Reasonable accommodations must be made for religious hair and headwear. This includes Rastafarians, Muslims, Seiks, Jews, and other groups that raise a religious objection to an employment related dress or appearance code. If you want to challenge the employee claims or deny accommodation based on a legitimate safety or other basis, you should consult your labor law attorney for guidance to avoid fines, penalties or legal damages.


             Tracy_JongAbout Tracy Jong

Tracy Jong has been an attorney for more than 20 years,      representing restaurants, bars, and craft beverage manufacturers in a wide array of legal matters. She is also a licensed patent attorney.

Her book Everything You Need To Know About Obtaining and Maintaining a New York Retail Liquor License: The Definitive Guide to Navigating the State Liquor Authority will be available next month on Amazon.com as a softcover and Kindle e-book.

Her legal column is available in The Equipped Brewer, a publication giving business advice, trends, and vendor reviews to help craft breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries build brands and succeed financially.

She also maintains a website and blog with practical information on legal and business issues affecting the industry. Follow her, sign up for her free firm app or monthly newsletter.



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