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The key phrase in laws banning religious discrimination

The California Workplace Religious Freedom Act became effective on Jan. 1, 2013. Both state and federal laws that guarantee religious freedom in the workplace are similar in scope. However, the California statute addresses the matter with stronger language. In addition, there is one phrase in both federal and state law that draws different interpretations.

Workers gain protection for their religious beliefs

The California statute provides protections that include wearing apparel, referred to as "religious dress practice," and facial, head and body hair contained under the term "religious grooming practice." A female employee may wear a head scarf or face covering, for example, or a male a beard as part of their observance of certain religious beliefs. The statute, like the federal law, goes on to state that an employer must provide "reasonable accommodation" for religious observance by an employee, and it is this phrase that has raised a difference in interpretation.

California adds muscle to the meaning

Under both the federal and state laws, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation for religious practices as long as doing so does not cause "undue hardship" for the employer. Under federal law, the hardship can be minimal, but in the Golden State, it must be shown that reasonable accommodation would result in "significant difficulty or expense" for the employer. For example, if an employee cannot work on Saturdays due to his religion, the employer must prove that because of his particular skill or expertise, the absence of this worker would result in considerable loss of income for the company. California added teeth to its law by making it clear that reasonable accommodation means eliminating completely any conflict between the religion of the employee and his or her job duties.

Going to court

Religious discrimination claims are usually filed in federal court, and federal law is used. However, there are a few states in which such claims are filed in state courts, and California is one of these. Religious discrimination cases in which the employer does not allow an employee to exercise faith-based observances are the most common. In addition to the stronger language used to enforce reasonable accommodation, California law requires that exceptions be made to company appearance standards or policies so that employees who wish to engage in religious practices may do so.

Seeking help for issues involving religious discrimination

Every worker has the right to be treated fairly, without prejudice of any kind. Any employee who is experiencing problems at work in terms of religious discrimination can reach out for legal assistance. An attorney experienced with California labor and employment law is standing by to help.

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