Feds seek end to California’s facial hair ban for prison officers

Feds seek end to California’s facial hair ban for prison officersFeds seek end to California’s facial hair ban for prison officers
via California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
The federal government has taken legal action against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), pushing for a halt to the agency’s clean-shaven policy that infringes on the religious rights of Sikh, Muslim and other officers.
Key points:
  • Attorneys with the Justice Department filed a request in court on Monday demanding the CDCR to temporarily halt the policy, citing allegations of employment discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • The CDCR enforced the policy in 2022 in compliance with workplace safety laws.
The details:
  • The Justice Department is seeking a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the ban while the CDCR explores reasonable accommodations, such as the use of alternative respirator types and possible exemptions.
  • The CDCR implemented the ban in 2022, arguing that facial hair interferes with the effectiveness of tight-fitting respirators. In a statement, the agency insists that the policy is a matter of legal compliance with workplace safety regulations:

“CDCR respects all sincerely held religious beliefs and strives to reasonably accommodate individuals seeking religious reasonable accommodations to the extent doing so does not conflict with other legal obligations, including safety regulations in the California Code of Regulations, Title 8, section 5144. Tight-fitting respirator masks are legally required under workplace safety laws for certain functions in state prison operations, as well as for the safety and protection of the incarcerated population and other staff.”

  • The policy marked a significant shift from previous accommodations allowing one-inch beards for religious or medical reasons. Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Sikh Coalition, argue that it discriminates against non-white and Black officers and exacerbates issues like pseudofolliculitis barbae, or chronic inflammation of the skin due to shaving.
  • So far, eight CDCR officers adversely affected by the policy have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They said the ban forces them to choose between their faith and their jobs, leading to significant personal and emotional distress.
  • Aside from a pause to the policy, the Justice Department seeks an order prohibiting retaliation against officers who intend to grow or keep their beards as the case progresses.
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