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Governor Brown Signs Workplace Religion Freedom Act of 2012, Expanding Protections for Religious Freedom Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act

Last month, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 1964, also known as the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (“WRFA”).  The WRFA expands the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s (“FEHA’s”) prohibition of employment discrimination based on religious creed.

Expands Protections to Include “Religious Dress and Grooming Standards”

The WRFA expands FEHA’s definition of “religious belief, observance, and practice” to include “religious dress and grooming standards.” 

As of January 1, 2013 when the WRFA takes effect, FEHA will provide that ” ‘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.” 

It will also provide that ” ‘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.” 

Excludes “Segregation from Other Employees or the Public” as a Reasonable Accommodation

FEHA currently requires employers to reasonably accommodate an individual’s religious belief or observance unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship.  The WFRA amends FEHA to explicitly state that an accommodation is not reasonable if it “requires segregation of the individual from other employees or the public.”

Specifies that the FEHA Definition of “Undue Hardship” Applies to the Reasonable Accommodation of Religious Beliefs

The WFRA requires courts to apply the state, rather than federal, definition of “undue hardship” to its requirement that an individual’s religious creed be reasonably accommodated.  The WFRA also amends FEHA to provide that an accommodation is not required if it would result “in a violation of this part or any other law prohibition discrimination of protection civil rights.”