California Religious Accommodation Laws

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing an applicant or employee because of the individual’s actual or perceived religious creed. Under FEHA, it is also unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of an individual’s association or relationship with a person of a particular religious creed.

FEHA states that "religious belief" includes observance of a Sabbath or other holy days and reasonable time necessary for travel before and after a religious observance. FEHA also defines a "religious creed" as beliefs, observations, or practices which a person sincerely holds and occupies in their life a place of importance parallel to that of traditionally organized religions.

According to the California statute, the law requires an employer to:

"Explore any available reasonable alternative means of accommodating the religious belief or observance, including the possibilities of excusing the person from those duties that conflict with his or her religious belief or observance or permitting those duties to be performed at another time or by another person."

Additionally, the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 (WRFA) extends the definition of religion to include every aspect of religious belief, creed, observance and practice by also adding religious dress and grooming practices, including clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts or other items that relate to a religious observance. This includes body, head and facial hair observances one must keep due to the employee’s religion.

Employers in California are required by law to make exceptions when it comes to workplace appearance standards due to religious practices. Under California law, employers are required to provide "reasonable accommodation" so long as the accommodation does not cause "undue hardship." The Federal and State law standard for "undue hardship differ from one another. Federal laws excuse employers from providing religious accommodations if the business would suffer "minimal hardship" in doing so. However, to be excused in California, an employer must prove that the religious accommodation in question causes a "significant difficulty or expense" to the business.

Reasonable accommodation in California also includes job modifications that enable religious employees to exercise their beliefs. This can include scheduling changes for religious observances or holidays or allowing workers to pray at work during a break, in a private area or at regular intervals throughout the day. Additionally, California Law makes it clear that employers cannot retaliate against employees for requesting reasonable accommodations due to religious reasons.

California employers must provide a reasonable accommodation if an employee is unable to work on a certain day due to a religious holiday or observance. Important to note is that reasonable accommodations, including time off for a religious holiday, are determined on a case-by-case basis.

While a California employer needs to provide its employees with religious accommodations under California law, certain industries require all employees to work on a variety of nationally-recognized holidays and these days should be spelled out in the company’s employee handbook. The best way to make things easier on both employee and employer is to talk about the expectations of both well before the religious holiday occurs so proper scheduling arrangements can be made. If an employer fails to accommodate its employee and the religious accommodation would not cause undue hardship, it is still entirely possible that an individual may be a victim of religious discrimination. These inquiries are fact sensitive.

At Hicks and Hicks we pay close attention to the needs of our clients, offer solid legal advice and boldly assert your rights in the workplace. If you have suffered discrimination in the workplace based on your religious beliefs or if your employer refuses to provide you with religious accommodation, call us for a free consultation. We are here to help you.