The California Workplace Religious Freedom Act was created to expand existing (FEHA) protections to allow employees to wear religious garments — including head and face coverings — as well as religious jewelry in the workplace. These protections also allow employees to refuse to wear pants or short skirts, as long as these accommodations are in accordance with their religious beliefs. Protections also extend to select religious grooming practices, such as wearing long hair or facial hair.
Below are a few examples of protected religious dress and grooming practices:
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits all employers with 15 or more employees from discrimination in all aspects of employment which is based on race, religion, color, sex, and or national origin. These laws extend to employment agencies, unions, and federal government agencies, as well. Further, retaliation against any employee who files a complaint of discrimination or who assists in a discrimination investigation is unlawful.
As it applies specifically to religious discrimination, Title VII prohibits:
1 Hanaa works for a local Credit Union. Hanna is a devout Muslim and has been working as a bank teller for several weeks. Her bank has a strict dress code prohibiting all tellers from wearing head coverings when interacting with customers. Up until now, Hanaa has not worn her headscarf (hijab) to work, but because Ramadan is coming soon, Hanaa requests to wear her headscarf at work throughout this time.
Hanaa’s religious beliefs and practices are sincerely held, whether she only chooses to wear her headscarf at certain times, and must be accommodated by her employer.
2 Liam started working for a hot dog stand about six months ago. Known for keeping his hair short, he has recently grown it out much longer. His manager reminds Liam that the hot dog stand has a policy requiring all male employees to wear their hair short. Liam explains that he is now a Nazirite, and that his religious beliefs do not allow him to cut his hair. Liam’s religious beliefs and practices, while brand new, are sincerely held and must be accommodated by his employer.
Important question: can an employer refuse to accommodate a job applicant or employee’s religious clothing or grooming choices if they are a violation of an employer’s policy or preference?
The answer is no. If an employer is aware that an employee requires certain religious accommodations, the employer must accommodate an employee who has a sincerely held religious belief or practice, unless the accommodation creates an undue hardship for the employer.
What is undue hardship? If a religious accommodation imposes more than everyday administrative costs, that means it imposes undue hardship. Furthermore, when exceptions to normal rules are granted as religious accommodations, an employer can still enforce its usual dress and grooming rules for other employees.
3 As an Orthodox Jewish woman, Leora adheres to a modest dress code. She recently accepted a position as the front desk attendant for a sports club. The evening before her first shift, her employer calls and lets her know that there is a dress code requiring her to wear tennis shorts and a company polo. Leora responds by saying that she requires a religious accommodation to wear a long skirt, instead of the required shorts.
Fortunately, her employer accommodates her request because Leora’s beliefs are sincerely held. Further, accommodating her request does not create any undue hardship for her employer. However, if other employees request the same accommodation, but for non-religious reasons, the employer can deny those requests while simultaneously granting Leora’s.
4 Mariam is a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf (hijab) whenever she is out in public. She recently had a promising phone interview for a sales job at a cell phone store. Mariam had a great conversation with the employer and was essentially offered the job over the phone.
On her first day of work, her employer seems shocked by her appearance and tells Miriam that someone more qualified will be given the job. Is there anything Miriam can do?
In general, it is difficult to prove whether an employer is guilty of discrimination regarding the decisions that it makes. In Miriam’s situation, it does appear that she was turned away because the employer reacted negatively to her hijab, which she wears for religious reasons.
If you have made up your mind to take action, it is important to work with an attorney that specializes in cases like yours. The religious discrimination lawyers at West Coast Employment Lawyers have extensive experience handling religious discrimination cases. We will work tirelessly to gather the facts, find and interview eyewitnesses, hire experts, and fight for your rights.
We work on a contingency basis, which means we only get attorney’s fees if we are able to recover for you. Our legal team is available 24/7 and will take care of your case from start to finish. For a free no-obligation consultation with a religious discrimination attorney in California, contact our office at 1-800-247-9235.
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