We have lit up the blogosphere lately with our entries about accommodating employees under Title VII who are required to wear religious dress or adornments, and with our litany of employers who have been found to be transgressors. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based upon, among other things, religion, but is silent about religious dress, tattoos, and hairstyles, leaving it to courts, and state law, to resolve any issues which may arise.
California is about to enact a law which is intended to clear up any doubt about whether wearing religious dress to work is a protected activity – it specifically provides that religious clothing and hairstyles qualify as a religious belief or observance, and also provides that segregating an employee from customers or the public is not a reasonable accommodation of an employee's religious beliefs.
The “Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012” is now on Governor Brown’s desk for signature.
The prefatory "digest" to the law sets out pretty clearly what the law will do:
“This bill would include a religious dress practice or a religious grooming practice as a belief or observance covered by the protections against religious discrimination, and would specify that an accommodation of an individual’s religious dress practice or religious grooming practice that would require that person to be segregated from the public or other employees is not a reasonable accommodation. This bill would further provide that no accommodation is required if an accommodation would result in the violation of specified laws protecting civil rights.”
The body of the law itself states that: (1) “religious dress practice” “shall 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; and (2) “religious grooming practice” “shall 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.”