SACRAMENTO — Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) was joined June 26 by representatives from the interfaith and civil rights community as AB 1964, the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
AB 1964 strengthens the religious accommodation standard under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), and ensures that employees need not make a choice between the observance of their faith and keeping their jobs.
“While AB 1964 will protect all religious practices, the bill specifically addresses the high levels of employment discrimination experienced by many Sikh and Muslim Americans who are required by their faiths to observe specific religious dress and grooming practices,” said Yamada. “Relegating an employee to a stock room out of public view will no longer be acceptable as a religious accommodation.”
AB 1964, a number chosen to mark its relationship to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, removes the confusion between federal and state definitions of “undue hardship,” clarifying that California has a higher “significant difficulty or expense” hurdle for religious accommodation rather than the federal “de minimus” standard.
The bill also specifies that religious dress and grooming 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.
The recent amendments make the bill stronger by conforming AB 1964 more closely to existing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations. The bill has already passed Assembly policy committees and the Assembly floor with strong bipartisan support.
“AB1964 will ensure that workers are judged for their qualifications, not their religion,” said Simran Kaur, advocacy manager for the Sikh Coalition, the sponsor of AB 1964. “We look forward to passing this bill in the Senate and getting it to the governor’s desk.”
Changing demographics, both nationally and in California, has resulted in increased numbers of religious discrimination cases in the United States. According to the EEOC, religious discrimination cases rose 9.5 percent in 2011 – the largest increase of any discrimination protected category. The Sikh community also reports an increase in religion-based employment discrimination. According to a survey of Sikhs in the San Francisco Bay Area, 12 percent of respondents reported religion-based employment discrimination.
The bill is also supported by many faith and civil rights organizations including: Agudath Israel of California, American Civil Liberties Union of California (ACLU), American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, California Employment Lawyers Association, California Immigrant Policy Center, California Nurses Association, Church State Council, Consumer Attorneys of California, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hindu American Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, and North American Religious Liberty Association-West.
AB 1964 will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee before moving to a vote on the Senate Floor.