October 14, 2014 | By The Sikh Coalition
by: Sikh Coalition
On October 10, 2014, we shared the story of Police Cadet Amandeep Singh, who is pursuing his dream of a career in law enforcement after the passage of AB1964, California’s Workplace Religious Freedom Act. Today, we continue with the third part of our four-part series and bring you the story of Correctional Officer (“CO”) Sukhvinder Singh Hundal from Yolo County, California.
CO Hundal has been employed by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional officer for approximately 16 years. The department’s strict uniform and grooming guidelines prohibited him from keeping his hair and beard unshorn and wearing a turban at work. For 16 years, CO Hundal did not believe he could practice his religion while building his career.
After AB1964 became law in January 2013, CO Hundal decided to become Amritdhari (an initiated Sikh) and more observant in his religious practice. He began to wear a turban and grow his hair and beard. The new law gave him confidence to practice his religion in the workplace. CO Hundal submitted a request for a religious accommodation to his employer, explaining that he intended to maintain the Sikh articles of faith, and attaching a copy of the new law in support of his request. Under the new law, a request for a religious accommodation can only be denied if the employer proves that granting the request would be a significant difficulty or expense.
Without any questions, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office immediately granted CO Hundal a religious accommodation. Today, CO Hundal proudly maintains his Sikh articles of faith, including his turban and unshorn hair and beard, while working as a correctional officer at the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.
Community Leadership Makes a Difference
This victory could not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the California Sikh community, which made numerous trips to the state capitol to testify at hearings and show their support for AB1964. Although the bill was introduced by State Assembly Member Mariko Yamada and sponsored by the Sikh Coalition, the grassroots activism of the California Sikh community during each step of the legislative process made all the difference.