Governor Edmund G. Brown signed into law the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act that became effective in 2013. The law prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace. If you are a business owner, you have probably had to rewrite company harassment and discrimination policies to suit.
The law expands protection for employees so that they can exercise their religious beliefs and practices freely. Most of the time, religious discrimination cases feature employees as the plaintiffs, and the court often rules in their favor—but you may wonder, does the employer ever prevail?
The case for reasonable accommodation
Many of the cases filed in state court involving religious discrimination concern the interpretation of “reasonable accommodation.” California employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees who seek to follow their religious beliefs unless by doing so the company would suffer “undue hardship.” The California statute is among the strictest in the nation, completely eliminating any conflict between the religion of an employee and his or her job duties. Still, the employer has some rights if charged with discrimination.
Other considerations come into play
If an employee feels that you denied him or her a promotion to department manager because of his or her religion, the employee would have to back up that claim if the case goes to court. The worker may say he or she attends Sabbath services on Saturdays, did not receive reasonable accommodation from work to do so and as a result, was passed over for promotion. The employer could argue that this worker did not yet have sufficient experience or training for the management position and therefore did not qualify for promotion anyway.
Seeking legal assistance
In California, the law concerning religious discrimination is very broad and protects employees not only in the following of their religious beliefs but also in the wearing of religious clothing, hairstyles and grooming practices. It extends to where, when and how employees go about their work for a company. If your company is adhering to the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act, you probably have little to worry about from a legal standpoint. If an employee files a complaint or action, however, do not delay in seeking legal representation from an attorney experienced with workplace discrimination defense.