February 23, 2012 (Fremont, CA) - California Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (AD-8), in collaboration with the Sikh Coalition's Western Region office, has taken steps toward introducing a California version of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA). If this bill becomes law, it will make it harder for employers to discriminate against Sikhs and other religious minorities in California.
The proposed law will combine the best elements of similar laws in other states and draw on the Sikh Coalition’s ongoing efforts to strengthen equal employment laws and protect workers from religious discrimination. Last fall, a successful six year effort by the Sikh Coalition, culminated with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signing into law a city version of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act.
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WHY SIKHS SHOULD CARE ABOUT WRFA
Sikhs suffer high levels of workplace discrimination because of their Sikh identity. Many are told to shave their beards; others are told to remove their turbans; some are told that they can only work out of public view. If enacted, WRFA would make it harder in each of these cases for California employers to discriminate against Sikhs.
HOW WRFA WORKS
Under current law, employers are required to make 'reasonable' accommodations for the religious practices of their employees. Employers can bypass this requirement by showing that such accommodations would impose a minimal expense on the employer. WRFA would still allow employers to deny religious accommodations, but only by proving that such accommodations would impose a significant expense on the employer.
Because it usually costs employers little or nothing to accommodate Sikhs, the new legal standard under WRFA would make it harder for employers to discriminate against Sikhs. In addition, WRFA would make it illegal for employers to segregate Sikhs from customers and the general public.