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California Considers New Law Against Workplace Religious Discrimination

A new bill recently passed by the California Assembly seeks to expand religious protections in the workplace by specifically allowing employees to wear religious clothing and carry religious objects while at work. Religious hairstyles would also be protected. Religious freedom is already protected in the California workplace. An employer cannot legally discriminate against an employee based on his or her religious beliefs.

Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada authored the anti-discrimination bill because, despite existing laws protecting workers, some California employees continue to experience discrimination based on religion in the California workplace. "To know that there are Sikhs and Muslims relegated to the back of the store in order to continue their employment is particularly heinous," Yamada stated.

Separating an employee from the public or from other workers would no longer be an acceptable accommodation under the new law.

Assemblyman Donald Wagner supports the bill, noting that, "The federal law doesn't go far enough to accommodate the issues that are important in the modern workforce."

Opponents of the bill have voiced safety concerns for workers, such as an oilfield workers or prison guards who could not wear a gas mask. The California Department of Corrections recently settled a religious discrimination suit brought by a Sikh applicant who was not hired because he refused to shave his beard to be fitted for a gas mask. The man refused to shave his beard because it was part of his Sikh religion.

The proposed improvements to employee protections against religious discrimination in the workplace now move to the Senate for consideration.

Source: Mercury News, "Measure would protect workplace religious freedom," Juliet Williams, May 29, 2012

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