California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed AB 1964 to amend the Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) to enlarge the description of what constitutes a protected act under the statute relative to religious observance and accommodation in the workplace.
What is “religious dress?”
Although it has not yet been defined by a court, “religious dress” means virtually any piece of clothing or accessory that signifies or expresses a religious creed or belief. The most common examples are a hijab (the headscarf worn by Muslim women), the dastar (the turban worn by Sikh males) or a yarmulke (the skullcap worn by Jewish males). Religious dress could also include jewelry such as a Christian cross, Star of David, or an Ankh.
What is a “religious grooming practice?”
A “religious grooming practice” is defined by the FEHA as “all forms of head, facial and body hair that are part of an individual’s observance of his or her religious creed.” Under this standard, an employer would be required to accommodate an employee’s religious belief by allowing him to wear a beard or long hair in the workplace. Some religions require men and women to shave their head.
A Muslim female employee wears a hijab to work. While working the counter, she was verbally abused by a customer whose child is serving overseas in the military. I followed our company policy and politely asked the customer to stop. Although the customer left, I felt horrible and told the employee that she did not have to work the front counter anymore.
Can I permanently assign her to work out of the public eye so that she doesn’t get insulted (and I don’t lose customers)?
No. An employer is required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s desire to wear religious clothing or engage in religious grooming practices. AB 1964, however, expressly states that it is not a “reasonable accommodation” to segregate or hide the religious employee from the public (or other employees).
What about Tattoos? Religious Piercing? Visible Body Modification? Read: