The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibits employers of five or more persons from discriminating against or harassing an applicant or employee because of religious creed. Under FEHA, unlawful discrimination includes actions based on an employer's perception that an applicant or employee has a religious creed, or on the applicant or employee's association with another person who has, or is perceived to have, a religious creed (CA Gov. Code Sec. 12900 et seq.).
Definition of terms. FEHA defines “religious creed,” “religion,” “religious observance,” “religious belief,” and “creed” to include all aspects of religious belief, observance, and practice, including religious dress and grooming practices.
“Religious dress practice” is construed broadly to include the wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face coverings, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.
“Religious grooming practice” is construed broadly to include all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed.
The California Appellate Court for the 2nd District has ruled that a philosophy that reflects belief that is moral or secular, rather than religious, does not qualify as a religion under FEHA (Friedman v. Southern Cal. Permanente Medical, 102 Cal. App. 4th 39 (2002), cert. denied 123 S.Ct. 2078). In this case, a vegan sought protection under FEHA. However, the court concluded that even though veganism may compel a prospective employee to live in accord with strict dictates of behavior, it reflects moral and secular philosophies, rather than religious beliefs.