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New bill protects California workers from religion discrimination

Last week on our San Diego employment law blog, we had mentioned that a teen who wanted to work at Burger King was told to leave the fast-food restaurant because she had requested that the store accommodate her religious practices by allowing her to wear a long skirt instead of uniform pants.

She has since filed a religion discrimination lawsuit. Just last month, a California employee filed a similar lawsuit against Disneyland after her employer refused to make religious accommodations so that the Muslim worker could wear her head scarf to work. These lawsuits are only two examples of the countless workers who have been discriminated against and harassed in the workplace because of their religious beliefs and practices. Even though discrimination is illegal, many employers still fail to protect the rights of their employees.

Fortunately, work conditions could soon improve for employees in California when it comes to religious accommodation issues. On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed an important bill that aims to prevent employers from violating the rights of workers who request to wear hijabs, turbans, beards or other religious garments at work.

The bill, AB 1964, is appropriately named after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination. However, the new bill better explains the rights and protections of religious workers so that employers do not make the mistake of failing to accommodate their needs in the workplace. When the new bill is violated, workers will still be able to pursue lawsuits in order to hold their employers accountable for any illegal practices.

The new bill states that workers are entitled to wear hijabs, beards and turbans in the workplace. Sometimes employers ban religious garments when employees work in public settings with customers or clients. However, AB 1964 states that employers must even allow employees who work in public to wear religious garments. An assemblywoman who helped write the bill stated, "An employee should not have to work in the back of the store in order to observe his or her faith."

The bill could go into effect by the beginning of 2013. There are some exceptions. If employers claim that allowing workers to wear certain religious garments would jeopardize safety or cause other hardships, employees could still be prohibited from wearing specific garments.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Bill protects religious garb, grooming in the workplace," Patrick McGreevy, Sept. 9, 2012