Sacramento, Calif., Apr 4, 2017 / 09:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A proposed California law has targeted faith-based employers’ codes of conduct in the name of reproductive health, the California Catholic Conference has said. “The bill impacts all employers, but seems to attack and diminish the conscience and religious liberty rights of faith-based organizations,” Sandra Palacios, associate director for governmental relations at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA April 3.
“The bill targets and seeks to eliminate the ability of religious employers to enforce faith-based code of conduct standards,” she said. “As one of the most family-friendly religious employers in our state and across the nation, we welcome an opportunity for further dialogue on the bill with the author and her staff.”
Assembly Bill 569 would bar requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other document that “purports to deny any employee the right to make his or her own reproductive health care decisions,” its summary says. It would also bar an employer from taking any adverse action against an employee based on the employee’s or employee dependent’s use of any drug, device or medical service related to “reproductive health” — which would include abortion, contraception and sterilization. If an employer has an employee handbook, the bill would require it to notify employees of these legal rights in the handbook.
The office of bill sponsor Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher said the legislation would make it clear that employees cannot be required to signs codes of conduct that “restrict their reproductive choices.” Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said women face repercussions for becoming pregnant and having children. “A woman should never face repercussions in the workplace for her reproductive choices,” she said in a March 28 statement.
Palacios agreed that pregnancy should never be punished, but noted that pregnant women are already protected under employment law. She said the bill in question would conflict with religious exemptions for faith-based employers, including the First Amendment protections of the U.S. Constitution. She cited the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which upheld a Lutheran church and school’s employment policy against an employee’s unlawful dismissal claim.
“As a religious employer, our ability to infuse our policies with tenets of our Catholic faith is currently protected by the First Amendment,” Palacios said. “It’s not unusual for private or religious employers to want to have policies that incorporate their tenets of faith. Religious employers currently operate under fundamental constitutional protections of free exercise and association.”
Current exemptions, for instance, allow a church to limit employment in most positions to those who share its faith. “The employer should not or cannot infringe on the ‘privacy right’ of an employee to take the actions described, as long as they keep it private, but the employer has a right to expect those acts to not be publicly embarrassing or disrespectful to the employer,” Palacios continued. “This bill seems to pit the rights of religious employers to affirm public behavior against the rights of an employee to do whatever they want publicly without regard to the employer.”
The Catholic conference also warned against any possible amendments to change current definition of a religious employer. Furthermore, the bill’s inclusion of dependents of employees was “unprecedented and questionable,” Palacios said.
In 2015, the Archdiocese of San Francisco attempted to revise employee handbooks to clarify expectations for teachers and staff at its Catholic high schools, prompting several large protests. Last year, the California state government started to require health care plans to cover abortions, including the health care plans of churches and religious universities.