California: Reasonable Accommodations Needed for Religious Beliefs


Employers in CA with 5+ Employees


April 3, 2023



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Quick Look

  • Employers are required to engage in the interactive process in good faith to determine whether a reasonable accommodation could be offered for a sincerely held religious belief, absent an undue hardship.
  • The undue hardship exemption for a claim that an accommodation would violate the law may not stand if there would be no penalty for the violation.


In Bolden-Hardge v. Office of the California State Controller, et al., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that an employer cannot claim an undue hardship for a religious accommodation based on a conflict with the law if they do not have liability exposure if they make the accommodation.

Here, a California state employee was offered a promotion for which she would have to swear allegiance to the State of California. However, she was a Jehovah’s Witness who believed that she could not swear allegiance to any government over the Kingdom of God. She asked for an accommodation to acknowledge her primary allegiance to God but that she would seek in good faith to uphold the federal and state constitutions. An accommodation was refused and the promotion offer withdrawn. However, when she returned to her original position, she was required to swear allegiance but was offered an addendum with the language she requested. She filed suit claiming religious  discrimination under the Fair Employment Housing Act (FEHA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Ninth Circuit acknowledged that the state’s oath impliedly requires primary loyalty to the state over religion. Further, employers who could be penalized for making a religious accommodation are not required to offer the accommodation because it would be an “undue hardship.” Here, the state agency failed to show that it would incur liability for accommodating the employee by amending the oath, which was further highlighted by the fact that the office in which the employee held her original position offered her the oath with the requested amendment.


Action Items

  1. Review anticipated denials for religious accommodation with legal counsel.
  2. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.


Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser. © 2023 ManagEase