Religious freedom is a fundamental right protected by federal and state laws. This freedom extends to the workplace.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers to practice their religion as long as the allowances do not cause undue hardship. This generally covers certain basics.
1. Attire and grooming
Employees have the right to wear religious attire, such as turbans, hijabs, yarmulkes, other head coverings or crosses at work. The law also protects their right to maintain religious grooming practices like beards. An employer may refuse a certain religious garment or grooming practice for health, safety or security reasons only if it causes undue hardship to business operations.
Another reasonable accommodation employers generally must honor is requests for time off to observe religious holidays, provided they do not disrupt the workplace significantly. Employers must arrange schedules to allow for the time needed to travel for these religious observances as well as the days they fall on.
3. Speech and expression
Workers have the right to express their religious beliefs through speech, writing or other forms of communication. The caveat is that it must not create a hostile work environment or harass other employees.
4. Practices and policies
Having flexible scheduling and a private place for prayer also counts as a reasonable accommodation. Employers also need to make allowances for certain dietary restrictions, such as providing vegetarian or halal options in the workplace cafeteria.
According to the Pew Research Center, California’s population represents over seven religions, and under Christianity alone there are at least six denominations. The law guarantees the right to openly practice or not practice all of these in the workplace within reasonable boundaries. It also prohibits discrimination on religious grounds, in hiring practices as well as workplace policies. As long as there is no significant difficulty or expense associated with the accommodations, and they do not require segregation of workers from the public or other workers, employers must accommodate religious needs.