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Understanding religious discrimination and accommodations

California law requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for employees to fairly and equitably practice their faith. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, the California Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 protects all religious creeds, observances, beliefs, dress and practices and requires employers to make an effort that does not fall under the qualification of "undue hardship."

What constitutes undue hardship may require determination by a court, but can generally be judged as something beyond a negligible minimum. Employers often use factors such as cost, availability of accessible accommodations, business requirements and the nature of the facility where work is performed to determine what is possible when it comes to religious accommodations. If an employee seeks religious accommodation and the employer declines when they have the capacity without undue hardship, the employee may have a case for religious discrimination.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reported on a case of Sikh truck drivers who sought a settlement and accommodations in a religious discrimination case against a trucking company. In the case, four prospective hires were denied in the pre-screening process because of a policy that does not allow headwear or jackets during drug screenings. Three of the men claimed they were denied because they refused to cut their hair, while the fourth claimed he was denied because he refused to remove his turban. Sikh faith requires unshorn hair and turbans for men. The case was settled for nearly a quarter of a million in favor of the plaintiffs, with additional provisions requiring the company to retrain hiring personnel and institute new policies.

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