As Abercrombie and Fitch is discovering, there are perils associated with making assumptions about a candidate’s religion, just as there are with assumptions about their physical capabilities. “Can you do this job?” applies to religion as well as disabilities.
According to Quartz,
In some ways, it seems that where Abercrombie & Fitch went wrong was in attempting to sidestep a potentially awkward conversation—by denying Elauf the job. … Abercrombie & Fitch assumed Elauf wore the head-scarf for religious reasons, and then refused her a job.
The company may still win the lawsuit, but they will have spent a lot of money for that assumption. Given that the interviewer noticed the headscarf and registered it as a religious item, it would have been easy to give the applicant a copy of the dress policy and ask her “Can you follow this?” That would have given her the chance to decide whether or not she was willing to work without the headscarf, and, if not, to ask about a religious exemption.
The assumption minefield is a large one, including disabilities, religion, gender, national origin, marital status, and whether or not someone has children. In all cases, the best bet – and best practice – is to ask the candidate if they can do the job and let them decide, based on all kinds of things the interviewer can’t know. Some of them will turn out to be wrong but most of them won’t, and companies won’t have to spend money and time fighting another assumption battle in court.