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Employment Development Department
Employment Development Department

Voluntary Quit VQ 90

Conscientious Objection Based on Religious, Ethical, Moral, or Philosophical Beliefs

This section discusses situations in which the claimant leaves the most recent work due to religious, ethical, or moral conscientious objection to the work or working conditions.

In most cases, it will not be necessary or appropriate to determine whether an individual's personal beliefs constitute a bona fide conscientious objection since the matter of whether good cause exists for the voluntary quit can be evaluated by focusing on the precise reason for the quit and by then consulting the applicable section of the BDG.

A. Conscientious Objection

Conscientious objection means an objection by an individual to performing an act that individual sincerely believes is wrong. The objection may be based on ethical, moral, religious, or philosophical grounds. When directly related to working conditions, a conscientious objection is considered to be a compelling reason for restricting availability for work or for voluntarily leaving work.

Title 22, Section 1256-6 (b), provides:

. . . If an individual has, or after working a time newly acquires a conscientious objection to the work condition or assigned work based on religious beliefs founded on the tenets or beliefs of a church, sect, denomination, or other religious group, or on ethical or philosophical grounds, an individual's voluntary leaving of the most recent work based on religious beliefs or other grounds is with good cause if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. If religious beliefs are involved, the tenets or beliefs of the religious group expressly forbid the adherent from engaging in the assigned work or meeting the work conditions. [It should be noted that in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, the U.S. Supreme Court held an individual's religious beliefs do not have to be shared by all members of the religious group or sect.]
  2. The conscientious objection is bona fide and not a sham or a means of avoiding work.
  3. The individual has, whenever feasible, sought other means, such as transfer to other work to resolve the conscientious objection before voluntarily leaving the work.
  4. The work or work conditions have a direct, rather than an indirect or incidental, relationship to the individual's religious, ethical, or philosophical beliefs.
  5. The individual was not aware of the objectionable aspects of the work at the time he or she was hired, or the conscientious objection arose later when the individual first acquired the belief on which the conscientious objection is based.

In determining whether the cause is attributable to conscientious objection, an essential factor to be considered is whether the individual genuinely believes that the action or condition to which he/she objects conflicts with his/her convictions or whether the individual merely chooses, for other personal reasons, to place a limit on acceptable employment. The degree to which the claimant's beliefs are commonly held or considered reasonable by others is immaterial.

B. Religious Objection

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .

First Amendment prohibitions apply to state and federal governments only, and do not apply to private employers. Private employers are, however, governed by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 if they have over 15 employees. That Act prohibits covered employers, government, and labor unions, from discriminating against persons because of their Religion:

The term "religion" includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate to an employee's or prospective employee's religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer's business.

In Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, the U.S. Supreme Court held that (1) denying unemployment insurance benefits to a claimant for failing to modify his religious beliefs was improper, and (2) his beliefs do not have to be shared by all members of the religious sect.

Mr. Thomas was hired by a foundry to fabricate sheet steel for a variety of uses. On his application for employment he claimed his religious faith but not any limitations that his faith imposed upon conditions of employment. A year after his hire, the fabrication portion of the plant closed and he was reassigned to a department that made turrets for the military. There was no nonmilitary work available as all departments were manufacturing military weapons. Mr. Thomas quit, contending that production of arms violated his religious beliefs.

A fellow employee, also a member of the same religious group to which Mr. Thomas belonged, advised Mr. Thomas that working on weapons was "not unscriptural," but Mr. Thomas contended that he could not, in good conscience, do the work. He could, however, continue to work with weapons indirectly as a raw material supplier or foundryman. In its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held:

The guarantee of free exercise [of religion] is not limited to beliefs shared by all members of a religious sect . . . . Where the state conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or where it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, a burden upon religion exists.

In a subsequent case decided eight years later, the court further explained its position with respect to Mr. Thomas' belief, that a religious belief can be a sincere belief even if the religious sect does not expressly forbid the work to which the claimant objects:

[In Thomas and Hobbie], [i]t is true that each of the claimants in those cases was a member of a particular religious sect, but none of those decisions turned on that consideration or upon any tenet of the sect involved that forbade the work the claimant refused to perform. Our judgments in those cases rested on the fact that each of the claimants had a sincere belief that religion required him or her to refrain from the work in question. Never did we suggest that unless a claimant belongs to a sect that forbids what his job requires, his belief, however sincere, must be deemed a purely personal preference rather than a religious belief.

The Supreme Court also found in Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida, that the religious belief does not have to be held at the time the claimant starts the job.

In Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida, Ms. Hobbie was a clerk in a jewelry store. She was hired in 1981, and three years later became a member of the Seventh Day Adventist church, which forbids its members from doing work of this nature from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Her supervisor agreed to work her shifts on Friday evenings and Saturday if she would work his shift on Sunday. From April to June this arrangement was mutually satisfactory.

In June, however, the general manager of the store learned of the agreement and told Ms. Hobbie she would either have to work her scheduled shifts or quit. When she refused to do either, she was discharged. Florida argued that Ms. Hobbie was the "agent of change" and was therefore responsible for the consequences. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the Unemployment Appeals Commission of Florida, stating:

The First Amendment protects the free exercise rights of employees who either adopt religious belief pre-hire, or convert from one faith to another after they are hired. The timing of the burden upon her free exercise rights is immaterial; the test is the burden involved.

In Frazee v. Illinois Department of Employment Security, the Supreme Court held a religious belief does not have to be a tenet of an established religion. Although the case did not involve a voluntary quit, the holding in the case has application in the context of a voluntary quit.

Mr. Frazee was offered a temporary retail position that would have required him to work Sundays. He refused, on the basis of a "personal professed religious belief." He was not a member of a church and his belief did not stem from any tenet, belief, or teaching of an established religious body. The state contended that religious convictions must be attached to the body of belief of a church, sect, or denomination, and denied benefits, finding that the claimant's personal beliefs, by virtue of being personal, were therefore noncompelling.

In its decision, the Supreme Court found:

Undoubtedly, membership in an organized religious denomination, especially one with a specific tenet forbidding members to work on Sunday, would simplify the problem of identifying sincerely held religious beliefs, but we reject the notion that to claim the protection of the Free Exercise Clause, one must be responding to the commands of a particular religious organization. Under our cases, he was entitled to invoke First Amendment protection.

The Court also held:

Nor do we underestimate the difficulty of distinguishing between religious and secular convictions and in determining whether a professed belief is sincerely held. States are clearly entitled to assure themselves that there is an ample predicate for invoking the Free Exercise Clause.

Thus, for all cases involving religious conscientious objection, the following factors should be taken into consideration:

  1. The claimant does not have to modify his or her beliefs for work.
  2. The claimant's beliefs do not have to be shared by all members of the religious group or sect.
  3. The work does not have to be forbidden by the religious group or sect.
  4. The claimant's beliefs do not have to be held prior to the job.
  5. The beliefs do not have to be based on an established religion.

And, if the claimant can establish a "sincerely held religious belief," his or her expression of that belief is entitled to protection even from a disqualification resulting from a voluntary quit.

C. Ethical, Moral, or Philosophical Objection

Objections to working conditions may also be based on personal beliefs which might be an integral part of an individual's code of ethics, morals, or philosophy of life without being related to religious beliefs. It will generally be difficult to determine if the individual sincerely believes that performing a particular act would be wrong since ethical, moral, or philosophical beliefs are often unique to the individual and unrelated to the doctrine of any organization that might substantiate the sincerity of the person's belief. Perhaps because of this difficulty, there are no precedent decisions of the Appeals Board or of the California courts which have directly addressed the question as to when ethical, moral, or philosophical beliefs constitute genuine conscientious objections.

Title 22, Section 1256-15 (e) provides:

If a claimant reasonably believes that continued work will cause a reasonable foreseeable and substantially probable serious risk to his or her morals, the claimant's leaving of work for this reason is with good cause. There is a reasonably foreseeable and substantially probable serious risk to morals if the claimant is required to engage in immoral, dishonest, illegal, or unethical acts. . . . Prior to leaving the claimant must have objected to the employer or taken other reasonable steps to preserve the job. . . . For example, a salesperson who unsuccessfully objects to the employer's requirement that false and misleading sales pitches be used and thus leaves the work has good cause for leaving. Similarly, a cannery inspector who unsuccessfully objects to the employer's insistence that the inspector approve products known to be below standards set by law and thus leaves the work has good cause for leaving.

It is recognized that there are situations which are not discussed elsewhere in the BDG, where the claimant's eligibility is contingent on establishing whether a restriction based on ethical or philosophical beliefs can be attributed to a bona fide conscientious objection. For such cases, the following factors should be considered:

  1. Does the claimant contend that working under the objectionable conditions would conflict with his/her basic convictions or is the claimant's objection based primarily on other personal reasons?
  2. Is the claimant's conduct consistent with his/her alleged beliefs?
  3. Does the claimant belong to or support any organization which advocates or opposes the principles upon which his/her alleged beliefs are based? (Such an affiliation is not required, but would indicate that the claimant's beliefs are sincerely held.)
  4. Did the claimant, prior to leaving, discuss his/her objections with the employer or take other reasonable steps to preserve the job?

As with religious objection, if the claimant can establish a "sincerely held belief" and has taken reasonable steps to preserve the job, he or she is eligible under Section 1256.