California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits discrimination in employment based on religion just as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans such discrimination at the federal level. Under both federal and state law, employers are required to make a reasonable accommodation for job applicants' and employees' religious practices unless the accommodation would cause an undue burden on the employer. The similarity between California law and federal law ends here, however, as California's law goes much farther in fighting employment discrimination based on religion.
Broadening the definitions
The California Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 (WRFA) expands the protections afforded under FEHA and Title VII by broadening the definition of religious belief or observance, prohibiting the segregation of employees based on their religious beliefs, and using a more stringent standard for "undue hardship" for purposes of religious accommodation.
The WRFA clearly includes religious dress and clothing in what it classifies as religious beliefs and observances. This expands the protections traditionally provided under federal law and the FEHA. WRFA provides that religious dress should be understood broadly to include donning or carrying religious clothing, face coverings, head coverings, jewelry and other items that are part of the observance of a religion. Also included is religious grooming of head and facial hair.
Defining unreasonable accommodations
FEHA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations of an employee’s religious beliefs. WRFA says an accommodation for an employee is unreasonable if it requires segregating the employee from other staff or customers. This provision evolved from a case where a Sikh man who wore a turban was stationed out of public view as part of his accommodation.
Redefining undue burden
FEHA and federal law state that an employer does not have to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs if it would cause an undue burden. Previously, the de minimis standard was used. Now, under the WRFA, there is a stricter standard that requires employers to show that accommodation would be a significant difficulty or expense. The following factors are examined to evaluate the extent of the expense:
The character of the accommodation and the cost of compliance
The overall resources of the facilities
The overall financial capability of the company
The type of operations of the company
The physical layout of the facility