by Adventist News Network

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has long lobbied for increased legal protection against religious discrimination by employers. A new state law in California offers more protection for church members whose jobs are jeopardized by Sabbath observance, according to religious liberty specialists.
 
AB 1964 was signed into law last week by Governor Jerry Brown and goes into effect on January 1, 2013. It clarifies an employer’s responsibility to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of employees under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Religious dress and grooming – such as turbans, hijabs and beards – now fall under protections granted by the legislation.
 
The new law also prevents employers from keeping visibly religious employees in back offices or basements. ­No longer will it be legal to segregate a worker from public view because their appearance did not fit a corporate image,­ California Assemblywoman Mariko ­Amada-Avis, author of the bill,­ said in a news release from her district office.
 
The lawmaker said the bill responds to changing demographics in California. Growing Sikh and Muslim communities in the state and nationwide have contributed to a recent uptick in workplace discrimination cases, the news release said. For Adventist supporters, the bill also ex­tends rights to employees whose religious ex­pression, while perhaps less tangible, is no less important.
 
The bill sends a ­clear signal­ to companies regarding their obligations to religious employees, said Alan J. Reinach, director of the Church State Council, a religious liberty organization of the Adventist Church in California. “­Hopefully, fewer Californians will lose their jobs, and Seventh-day Adventists will be more secure in their right to keep holy the Sabbath day,”­ Reinach said.
 
Enactment of the new law makes California the third state in the nation to legislate workplace religious rights. Previously, New Y­ork and O­regon passed laws with similar provisions.
 
Adventist religious liberty advocates have worked for years with an interfaith coalition to secure a workplace religious freedom act at the national level, but waning Congressional interest and disagreement over the scope of such legislation has tempered enthusiasm. Wayne Leslie, director of Legislative Affairs for the General Conference, says the new California law signals a grassroots approach to finding traction for workplace religious liberty protections. ­This is a big step forward for all people of faith,­ Leslie said. "­I commend them for pushing for this to get it done in California, and I’m hopeful that this will happen in other states,"­ he added.
 
Written by Elizabeth Lechleitner, ANN staff writer.