Q. What protections do I have at work against discrimination based on my religion?
A. In California, employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants and employees based on religion. “Religion” or “religious creed” is broadly defined under California law to include all aspects of religious belief or practices. These protections are not limited to traditional or readily recognized religions but extend to less recognized belief systems as long as they are “sincerely held.”
Employers are also required to reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs and observances of employees. Reasonable accommodation may include job restructuring, reassignment or modification of work practices, or allowing time off for religious observances.
Employers must also accommodate “religious dress” and “religious grooming practices.” Religious dress includes allowing employees to wear religious clothing, such as head or face coverings (including headscarves and turbans), jewelry, artifacts, and wear or carry any other item that is part of an individual’s religious observances. Religious grooming practices include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance of an individual’s religious beliefs.
California law also expressly states that it is not a reasonable accommodation of a person’s religious dress or grooming practice to segregate that person from customers or the public. In other words, an employer cannot determine that it is a reasonable accommodation to ban an employee from face-to-face contact with the public if the employee’s religious dress conflicts with the company’s dress code.
Notably, an employer is not required to provide an accommodation (i.e., such an accommodation would not be considered reasonable) if it can demonstrate that doing so would cause an “undue hardship.” Under California law (unlike under federal law), “undue hardship” is not an easy standard for employers to meet and means an action requiring “significant difficulty or expense” in light of several factors outlined under the law. These factors include the type of operations of the company and the overall financial resources of the facilities at issue and the company as a whole, among other factors.
If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of religion or denied a reasonable accommodation for your religious beliefs or observances, you should consult a lawyer immediately to determine potential remedies.
Bobby Shukla represents individuals in employment law matters at Shukla Law. She can be reached at (415) 986-1338.