California Enacts Workplace Religious Freedom Act

California’s Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 (AB 1964) went into effect on January 1, 2013.  The Act provides greater protection for workplace religious freedom in three ways.  First, the Act requires employers to make a religious accommodation unless it would cause significant difficulty or expense.  Previously an employer could avoid a religious accommodation by showing that it would cause a minor (“de minimis”) expense.  Second, the Act expands protection to religious clothing and hairstyles as forms of religious expression.  Third, and finally, the Act prohibits an employer from segregating an employee from customers and the public as a way to “accommodate” an employee’s religious beliefs.  The final change stems from a court ruling which approved an employer’s decision to ban a Sikh employee from face-to-face contact with the public, because the employee insisted on wearing a turban. The turban was inconsistent with the employer’s dress code.

The Act applies to both public and private sector employers.

By Jake White

Legal Developments