November 1, 2012

Reasonable Accommodation: It’s Not Just for Some Religious Observances Anymore

On September 8, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 into law. It amended the California Fair Employment and Housing Act to specifically state that religious clothing and hairstyles (grooming) qualify as a protected religious beliefs or observances and that segregating an employee from customers or the public is not a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious beliefs. Really? We needed a new legislation to tell us that?

The law also clarifies that FEHA’s “undue hardship” definition applies to FEHA’s religious discrimination provisions. When evaluating failure to accommodate allegations, California courts have applied the federal court’s “de minimis” definition to FEHA’s religious discrimination section instead of using FEHA’s “significant difficulty or expense” definition. See Soldinger v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 51 Cal. App. 4th 345 (1996). You probably already thought the federal definition was hard enough to meet.

Why did they pass this? The legislation came about in recognition of the 9.5 percent increase in 2011 in religious discrimination cases documented by the EEOC.
AB 1964 was sponsored by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada’s (D-Davis), who is running for re-election this year, and the Sikh Coalition and supported by AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Agudath Israel of California, ACLU of California, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, California Employment Lawyers Association, California Immigrant Policy Center, California Nurses Association, Church State Council, Consumer Attorneys of California, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California Chapter, Hindu-American Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, North American Religious Liberty Association – West.