California Passes Law Protecting Religious Garb, Grooming in the Workplace

On September 8, 2012, California Governor, Jerry Brown, signed into law AB 1964 to amend Section 12926 of the California Government Code (part of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act), clarifying the employment rights of employees wearing turbans, beards and hijabs in observance of their religious beliefs. California law protects individuals from employment discrimination based on race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, or sexual orientation. AB 1964 expands the definition of “religious creed” to include religious dress and grooming practices as part of an individual’s religious observance or belief. Under the new law, “religious dress practice” will be “construed broadly to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.” “Religious grooming practice” will also be construed broadly to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the religious belief or observance of an individual unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the conduct of business of the employer. Under AB 1964, however, an accommodation that would require the individual to be segregated from the public or other employees “would not be considered reasonable.” The new law takes effect on January 1, 2013.