With the signing of AB 1964 by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, one more step has been taken to ensure that people from all walks of life are treated fairly in the workplace.
AB 1964—The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012— would “include a religious dress practice or religious grooming practice as a belief or observance covered by the protections against religious discrimination, and would specify that an accommodation of an individual’s religious dress practice or religious grooming practice that would require that person to be segregated from the public or other employees is not a reasonable accommodation,” according to the text of the bill.
In other words, employers will no longer be able to make those who wear turbans, hijabs or facial hair work in the back of a store as a compromise for allowing them to uphold their religious practices.
It’s about time that Sikhs and Muslims get that sort of respect. Nearly every other religious denomination already has theirs.
Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 set a good federal-level foundation in prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. One standard of Title VII requires an employer to accommodate the religious practices of an employee unless it creates an “undue hardship” to that employer’s business.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on age (40 and over), religious creed, disabilities (mental or physical) and sexual orientation, among others, according to a fact sheet found at ASMDC.org.
So while religious beliefs have been protected against discrimination in the workplace and application process for some time, employers have found ways to “accommodate” these workers while still maintaining their precious company image.
Disneyland’s notoriously stringent appearance guidelines come to mind. Employees were finally granted the ability to have facial hair earlier this year, and even then, their updated guidelines only allow for the hair to be a quarter-inch thick, according to a Jan. 23 article in the Orange County Register.
For perspective, prior to this year, even Walt Disney couldn’t have worked at his theme park.
In 2010, Imane Boudlal, a Muslim woman working at Disneyland, had to contact her supervisors at Disneyland to request they make an exception to their appearance guidelines. All she wanted was to wear her hijab, a type of scarf or veil worn by Muslim women. Disney had designed their own for her to wear, but it needed corporate approval. In the meantime she wore her own and was promptly asked to “either remove the scarf, cover it with a hat or work in a job out of public sight,” according to an Aug. 13 article in the Los Angeles Times.
In an emailed letter originally sent to John Kerry in 2010 by Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy for the Sikh Coalition, Singh noted that forcing employees who refused to work without their religious headwear out of the public eye was found to be acceptable in 2002, with the Birdi v. United Airlines, Corp case.
“Even if (AB 1964) strengthens the definition of an ‘undue hardship’ under Title VII, employees of faith may not be able to avail themselves of this strengthened standard and may still be vulnerable to egregious forms of workplace discrimination,” said Singh.
Singh urged those writing the bill to include language that specifically prohibited these types of accommodations that were essentially just thinly-veiled discrimination.
It was a long road to walk, but his wish was granted.
Hopefully this law can bring California forward and toward a more cooperative, unsegregated workplace. People should never have to be hidden away at work for their religious beliefs.