New California Religious Freedom Act Protects Workers of All Faiths

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is meant to help Americans of all religions enjoy equal employment opportunities. However, over the years this federal law has been interpreted so narrowly that critics believe it nearly gives employers carte blanche to discriminate in the workplace.

That's why on September 8 California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 1964, the California Religious Freedom Act. The new law seeks to address some of the loopholes left in Title VII and prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Objective Evidence of Significant Business Hardship Now Required To Deny Religious Accommodations

Religiously required garb or grooming styles is a part of many faiths. Under federal law, employability in a given role may be conditioned on say, shaving a religiously required beard or replacing a religiously required turban with a uniform hat in deference to the employer's image policies. Employers could satisfy their federal requirement to provide a "reasonable accommodation" by segregated an employee wearing religious garb from the public and paying him or her the same rate as a public-facing employee.

The new California Religious Freedom Act beefs up the minimal protections offered by federal law by requiring employers to provide objective evidence of significant economic hardship before denying religious accommodations. For example, an employer could not refuse to let an employee wearing a religious turban work in a customer-facing role simply based on an arbitrary image policy; they would have to prove that they'd lose revenue.

Discrimination Claims Up; Talk to a Lawyer If You've Been Discriminated Against

According to figures from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, religious discrimination cases rose by 9.5 percent in 2011. In California alone, employers faced over 500 discrimination cases last year. The numbers aren't in yet for 2012, but civil rights advocates are hoping the new Religious Freedom Act will pare back discrimination in years to come.

Still, there may be some growing pains as employers adjust to the new standards set by the California Religious Freedom Act. It may not be immediately clear to employers that they have to live up to the new, more stringent standards prohibiting religious discrimination in the workplace.

If you have been discriminated against at work because of your faith, don't just turn the other cheek. Your religious beliefs, whatever they may be, deserve respect, and you are entitled to accommodations in the workplace for your faith. Talk to a San Francisco employment discrimination attorney today to learn more about legal remedies that may be available if you have been discriminated against at work.