Bill protecting religious garb passes California Assembly

A bill that would protect the rights of workers who wear religious-oriented clothing at work was overwhelmingly passed by the California Assembly on Tuesday, May 28. AB 1964 now goes to the State Senate, where its proponents hope it will pass before the Legislature adjourns at the end of August. Then it would go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

The bill, dubbed the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012, essentially would not break new ground but would clarify the federal Fair Employment and Housing Act, said Rachel Linn, spokeswoman for Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, author of the measure.

The bill, which moved through several assembly committees with little opposition, was supported by a broad collation of religious affiliations, including Muslim, Sikh, Catholic and Jewish organizations as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Only three members of the Assembly voted against the measure Tuesday, including Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks. Donnelly said in an email that he opposed AB 1964 because it places another burden on employers and could lead to unneeded lawsuits.

Adel Syed, the government relations coordinator for the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he regularly reviews cases in which women who keep their heads covered in observance of Muslim law are treated differently in the workplace and may not have the same opportunities as their coworkers.

The same thing happens to Sikh men and orthodox Jewish men who wear yarmulkes, Syed said. Some employers are skittish about having these workers front and center, where they would interact with customers and the public.

“Some employers might say they are making a reasonable accommodation,” by permitting the traditional garb, Syed said. “But then they decide to put that person in the back, in the stockroom.”

Press-Enterprise, 29 May 2012