Next in our series, “New Year, New Laws for California Employers,” we take a look at new protections given to Religious Dress and Grooming and Breastfeeding under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Prepared by Mark Terman, partner in the Los Angeles office, this series looks at some of the significant new regulations becoming law in 2013 affecting private employers doing business in California.
Religious Dress and Grooming Protected
California employers should know that the Fair Employment and Housing Act protects the right of individuals to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination on account of religions creed, observance and belief. Similarly, employers are required to reasonably accommodate religious belief or observance of an individual unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship to the employer.
AB 1964 extends these protections to “religious dress practice” and “religious grooming practice.” Religious dress practice includes the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts and any other item that is part of the individual’s observance of his or her religious creed. Religious grooming practice includes all forms of head, facial and body hair that are part of the individual’s religious observance.
This law may cause some employers to act with more tolerance of religious practices than in the past. For example, the law also states that an accommodation is not reasonable if it requires segregation of the employee from the public or other employees. As such, employees who interface with clients or customers may not be disqualified from those positions based upon their religious dress or grooming. Because the bill does not state that it supersedes existing health and safety laws and regulations, workplace safety rules—such as dress and grooming required of employees who operate machinery—should not be affected by the new law.
Breastfeeding Further Protected
The FEHA also protects against discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, which includes gender, pregnancy, childbirth and medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. AB 2386 adds breastfeeding and medical conditions related to breastfeeding to the FEHA’s definition of “sex.” This clarification in the law, also dovetails with Labor Code secs. 1030-1033, which require reasonable amounts of break time and an adequate private place for mothers to express breast milk at work.
See our earlier post in this series here.