California Enacts Law to Further Protect Religious Expression in the Workplace

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Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law Assembly Bill 1964, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012. Set to take effect on January 1, 2013, AB 1964 clarifies existing law pertaining to religious discrimination and serves to underscore the marked difference between federal and state law. Indeed, for those California employers who have adhered to federal law (usually at the direction of a corporate headquarters located outside of California), this new legislation could have a significant impact.

Similar to federal law embodied by Title VII or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, California’s Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA) has long prohibited employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees and job applicants based on the number of factors, including religious creed. Indeed, with respect to religion, FEHA defines “religious belief or observance” as including, but not limited to, observance on a Sabbath or other religious holy day and reasonable time necessary to travel. Other religious beliefs or observances, such as religious clothing and grooming, were implicitly protected.

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