This past September, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills of interest to employers in California. Assembly Bill 1964 will provide protection for employees' "religious dress practice" which may include "wearing or carrying of religious clothing, head or face covering, jewelry, artifacts, and any other item that is part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed." The new law will also protect "religious grooming practice," which may include "all forms of head, facial, and body hair that are part of the observance by an individual of his or her religious creed." Starting in January 2013, the law will require that employers either provide reasonable accommodations for their employees' religious dress and grooming practices or demonstrate that such an accommodation would be an undue burden on the business. The new law will be known as the Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2012 and will be enforced by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Assembly Bill 1844 will prohibit employers from demanding usernames and passwords to social networking sites from their employees and job applicants. Starting in January 2013, if an employee believes his or her employer has violated the law, the employee will be able to file a complaint with California's Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE) or file a lawsuit against the employer. A similar law, Assembly Bill 1349, bans colleges and universities from demanding usernames and passwords for social networking sites from their students. California is the third state to pass such a law. Illinois and Maryland already have such laws. In the meantime, Congress does not appear to have made any progress on the proposed Password Protection Act of 2012 (HR 5684), which remains in committee in the House of Representatives. If passed, the federal statute would provide nationwide protections similar to those of California.