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Religious Freedom in California Workplaces

Employers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate the religious practices of a job applicant or employee unless the accommodation would place an undue burden on the employer. Discrimination based upon an employee’s religious beliefs or practices is illegal under both state and federal law; however, recent legislation has extended California’s antidiscrimination protections beyond those of the federal government.

Broadening the protection of religion in the workplace

The California Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 (WRFA) expands the definition of religious belief or observance, outlaws segregating religious employees from others, and employs a more stringent standard for “undue hardship” for purposes of religious accommodation.

Religious belief or observance

The WRFA, going beyond federal law, declares that religious dress and clothing are included in the definition of religious beliefs and observances. WRFA states that religious dress should be understood broadly to include wearing or carrying religious clothing, face garments, head trappings (like skullcaps), jewelry and other items that are considered to be part of a particular religion. Head and facial hair styles also fall under the term “religious grooming.”

Separate accommodations are unreasonable

State and federal law require employers to make reasonable accommodations to an employee’s religious beliefs. The newly implemented WRFA clarifies that an accommodation for an employee is unreasonable if it requires segregating the employee from other staff or customers. This provision emerged from a case where a Sikh who wore a turban was assigned a workstation out of public view as part of the accommodation.

Redefining undue burden

Employment discrimination law says that an employer does not have to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs if it would cause an undue burden. The de minimis standard was the rule applied by California courts. The WRFA applies a stricter standard that requires employers to show that the accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense. The following are examined to determine the extent of the expense:

  • The type of accommodation and its related costs
  • The overall resources of the company
  • The total financial position of the company
  • The type of operations of the company
  • The physical layout of the facility

Proving a complaint of religious discrimination is challenging and requires the guidance of a competent Los Angeles employment lawyer. Contact our office to schedule a consultation.

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