Religious Beliefs, Gender Identity and Harassment Prevention Training

Religious Beliefs, Gender Identity and Harassment Prevention Training

We have a new hire who says the harassment prevention training section on gender identity is against her religious beliefs and asks to skip this section of the training and testing. This is the first time we have had such a request. Isn’t this a required part of the training for California?

Yes, the harassment prevention training referenced above started as a California requirement for larger employers, but was amended in 2019 to include smaller employers. Even before that, changes were made to require training in gender identity/expression beginning January 1, 2018.

Training Objectives

As explained in the regulations implementing the law:

“The learning objectives of the training mandated by Government Code section 12950.1 shall be: 1) to assist California employers in changing or modifying workplace behaviors that create or contribute to harassment based on ‘sex,’ ‘gender identity,’ ‘gender expression,’ and ‘sexual orientation’ as those terms are defined in California and federal law, where applicable . . . .”

Protections for transgender rights have increased in recent years, which now conflicts with many individuals’ religious beliefs. Many individuals believe that sex is ordained divinely and assigned to people at birth and cite sections of the Bible to support their beliefs.

Religious Objections

Disputes involving this subject often relate to restrooms or sports and sports facilities. However, the training required as described above is now being challenged as violative of religious beliefs.

The decision in one case, Meriwether v. Hartop, 992 F.3rd 492 (2021), ultimately supported a professor’s challenge of a university’s policy forcing faculty to use students’ preferred pronouns. This was a victory for one religious objection, but there appear to be no cases on the new hire’s objections noted above.

Hopefully, an open discussion can be held, asking the new hire to listen but not requiring her to change her beliefs. Until there is case law to guide employers, if the individual refuses to take this part of the training, it would be wise to seek legal counsel on how to proceed.

Dana Leisinger, Employment Law Expert, CalChamber

CalChamber members can read more about Mandatory Harassment Prevention Training in the HR Library. Not a member? Learn how to power your business with a CalChamber membership.

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