Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 Clears First Policy Committee
Yamada’s Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 Clears First Policy Committee
AB 1964 Strengthens Religious Protections in the Workplace
SACRAMENTO, CA – Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D – Davis) was joined by dozens of representatives from the interfaith community as she presented AB 1964 the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012. AB 1964 clarifies the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to ensure that religion receives equal protection under law. The bill was heard in the Assembly Labor & Employment Committee this afternoon and passed out of committee with bipartisan support.
“Current religious discrimination and segregation in the workplace is akin to Rosa Parks being moved to the back of the bus,” said Assemblymember Yamada. “Sikhs, Muslims and other religious minorities should not have to be moved to the back of a store in order to continue to work and support their families. This bill will ensure that segregation is not an appropriate religious accommodation.”
Sikhs, Muslims, Catholics, 7th Day Adventists, members of the Jewish community, labor groups and others spoke in support of AB 1964 asserting that the bill will significantly reduce job discrimination against religious minorities. Alan J. Reinach, Esq., Executive Director of the Church State Council testified that the existing legal standard for religious accommodation often prevents people from being hired and contributes to long-term chronic unemployment.
AB 1964, a number chosen to reflect its relationship to the landmark federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that undue hardship, as defined in the Definitions section of FEHA, will also apply to the Religious Discrimination section. This change clears up legal confusion of federal vs. state definitions of “undue hardship”. The bill would also specify that religious clothing and hairstyles qualify as a religious belief or observance and that segregating an employee from customers or the public is not a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious beliefs.
“AB 1964 affirms the promise of equal opportunity for all workers in California,” said Simran Kaur, Advocacy Manager of the Sikh Coalition, a sponsor of the legislation. “We are pleased that the bill is moving forward.”
Changing demographics, both nationally and in California, has resulted in increased numbers of religious discrimination cases in the United States. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission religious discrimination cases rose 9.5 percent in 2011, contributing to the nearly 100,000 charges of employer discrimination nationwide. In California, employers faced over 500 such cases.
AB 1964 will next be heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, April 24, 2012.