By Rights... Answers to Your Human Rights Questions

Column 21

In this column:

  • Employer Dress Code Conflicts with Job Applicant's Religion
  • Landlord Seeks to ID Tenants
  • Nursing Mom Wants to Know Her Rights

Employer Dress Code Conflicts with Job Applicant's Religion

Recently we recruited and offered employment to a nice young lady we obviously wished to hire. During the interview we explained in detail our uniform policy, which requires customer service employees to wear black slacks as a part of the uniform. The young women claimed that her religious convictions prevent her from wearing slacks, and she can only wear a skirt. Our requirement for slacks has to do with safety and comfort: employees work around large conveyors on a regular basis, and are required to bend and stoop. We have now withdrawn our offer. Have we not treated this young lady responsibly? Or have we violated her rights?

The Commissioner says:

We can't tell you, for certain, whether or not you have treated the "young lady" responsibly or violated her rights. We can never say that an employer's action in a particular case is legal or illegal, without having all the facts. We can tell you that an employer has a legitimate interest in ensuring workplace safety, and may require uniforms and have other dress codes designed to ensure a safe workplace. However, if an employee or job applicant were to charge that an employer's dress code violated his or her religious beliefs, the employer could be required to prove that its dress standard was not arbitrary, but truly necessary for safety or other legitimate business reasons. And when it is possible for a employer to ensure a safe workplace while still accommodating an employee's religion -- by allowing some type of attire that was both safe, and in accord with the employee's religious principles -- an employer may be required under the Human Rights Act to do so.

Landlord Seeks to ID Tenants

As a landlord, one of the issues we deal with is checking someone's background and leasing to them, only to have a different person move in. It is difficult for us to stop this, unless we are sure the person we are seeing in the apartment is someone other than the resident. One solution we have contemplated is to photocopy the driver's license of each applicant and keep it on file. However there is some question as to weather this might be considered discrimination, or invite a lawsuit. Is it legal to photocopy an applicant's ID to keep in their resident file?

The Commissioner says:

As long as you apply your identification and background-check policies equally to every applicant -- regardless of race, color, religion, national origin or other "protected" characteristics -- you would not be violating the Human Rights Act by photocopying applicants' IDs or keeping this information on file. We cannot speak to whether your proposed policy might invite a lawsuit based on some other law or other legal theory. If you are concerned about such a possibility, we suggest you consult a private attorney who specializes in tenant-landlord law.

Nursing Mom Wants to Know Her Rights

I am a nursing mom who needs to express milk three times a day. I do this by pumping with a breast pump. What are my rights with respect to my employer?

The Commissioner Says:

Minnesota law (Chapter 181.939) requires an employer to provide reasonable unpaid break time for an employee to express breast milk, unless to do so would unduly disrupt the operations of the employer. This law also requires the employer to make a reasonable effort to provide a room or other location, close to the work area (but other than a lavatory), where the employee can express her milk in privacy.

The answers in these columns are not intended as legal advice. The Department of Human Rights does not make a judgment on any case without carefully examining all the facts.

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