Our ministry often receives emails of encouragement, information, and questions that from time to time we will pass on if it may be edifying to the Body. We sporadically hear questions about of religious discrimination, in regard to the Sabbath, in the workplace. The following information may prove helpful to you or someone you know.
There is a Federal Law, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964″, as amended [section 701(j), 703 and 717] and in “Part XII Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidelines on Discrimination Because of Religion”, which applies to nearly all employers of 15 or more persons, that protects the religious freedom of employees of such companies. Smaller companies may be able to be favored in judgments because of the ‘hardship’ of a loss of one employee could greatly impact the business.
Anyway, to fall under this Title VII: the employee in question must hold a sincere religious belief that has been communicated to the employer (preferably in a dated writing) in some form. This is NOT a request – you are informing the employer that you cannot work these days and why – period. The religious belief must be in conflict with one or more of an employer’s requirements and due to such beliefs the employee must have been discriminated against in some way by the employer (i.e. terminated, written up, given unequal work standards compared to other employees, demoted, harassed, etc.).
There are other state laws that vary from one to another but most are similar to the Federal law (check with a local lawyer for your state or the EEOC). Employers must accommodate requests by employees to be absent on their ‘holidays’ (including the 7th Day Sabbath and annual holydays if that is your sincere conviction). The employer must then exhibit ‘good faith’ by sincerely attempting to allow the employee to have the day off from work. Just telling the employee he can ‘swap shifts’ with any willing employee, if such an action is prohibited by the employee’s beliefs and the employee has informed the employer of such, would not suffice as a good faith effort. In such a situation the employer might have to arrange such a ‘swap’ him or her self. Or to rearrange shifts. Or possibly find you a different position where the schedule will not conflict with your ‘holidays.’
AN EMPLOYER’S REFUSAL TO EVEN ATTEMPT A “DE MINIMIS” ACCOMMODATION OF A SABBATH-OBSERVER’S RELIGIOUS PRACTICES IS DISCRIMINATION UNDER THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT. I list some real-life court case examples below:
Case Examination 1: Balint v. Carson City, Nevada, (9th Cir. 1998). Balint is a Sabbath-keeper and she was refused a position at a police office because of her sabbath conviction. In reaching its conclusion, the panel in Balint relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, (1977) (“TWA”). In that case, the Supreme Court explained the duty imposed by the Civil Rights Act on employers to accommodate the religious practices of their employees. The Court held that when work shifts are allocated on the basis of an “existing, bona fide seniority-based shift-bidding system” that the employer is not obligated! Title VII does not require an employer to accommodate religion if the accommodation would impose more than de minimis cost. This case is being appealed by Balints lawyers.
Case Examination 2: In Dewey v. Reynolds Metals Co., (1971), the Supreme Court split evenly on this question. The Sixth Circuit had rejected the civil-rights claim of an employee who was fired because of his religious beliefs. Specifically, the employee observed strictly his Sabbath and had contended that the employer’s “replacement system” was insufficient to accommodate his religious beliefs, because it required him to ask other workers to work on his Sabbath for him. Dewey v. Reynolds Metals Co., (6th Cir. 1970). The Supreme Court affirmed the Sixth Circuit’s decision by an “equally divided Court.” This was before the 1972 amendments to the laws.
In 1972, Congress acted to address this confusion by adding amendments which made clear “the employer’s statutory obligation to make reasonable accommodations for the religious observances of its employees, short of incurring an undue hardship.” The “reasonable accommodation” requirement and “undue hardship” standard that were adopted were similar to the existing regulations that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had earlier made in 1967 that stated that employers must “make reasonable accommodations to the religious needs of employees and prospective employees where such accommodations can be made without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”
Case Examination 3: Cummins v. Parker Seal Co., (6th Cir. 1975), affirmed again by an equally divided Court (1976), the Court of Appeals held that the employer did not perform its duty under the Civil Rights Act of accommodating religion. The plaintiff, a member of the Worldwide Church of God, was not permitted by ‘his religion’ to work on Saturday. After other workers complained that they had to substitute for the plaintiff on Saturdays, the plaintiff had been fired. The Sixth Circuit recognized that although the employer was somewhat “inconvenienced” by the employee’s religious beliefs “to call the inconvenience shown on this record undue hardship would be to venture into an Alice in Wonderland world where words have no meaning.”
Case Examination 4: Brown Vs General Motors – a (pre-apostasy) World Wide Church of God member requested the 7th Day Sabbath (Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset) off and was denied. The case ended up in court and the Sabbath-keeper won the decision because the employer, GMC, did not incur additional costs to accommodate Brown because they employed additional workers at all times to cover unscheduled absences so they could well cover a scheduled one.
Case Examination 5: Reed Vs the FAA [1995-2001]- Don Reed – 7th Day Sabbath-keeper/Church of God member was harassed and oppressed by his employer for refusing to work on the Sabbath. Although Reed suggested several viable alternatives his employer did not attempt to accommodate his bonafide religious beliefs. Reed’s stand eventually led up to a wrongful termination. In a jury trial Reed won his case (a victory for Sabbath keepers everywhere in the U.S.) and was rewarded back pay, legal costs, and other compensation. The FAA was guilty of discrimination.
See the links below for the text of the current national laws.
Some things to remember:
1.) Pray to the Father before any action.
2.) Notify your employer, preferably in writing, right away that there is a conflict with working on the Sabbath or other ‘religious holiday.’
3.) Be consistent with your conviction. Do not excuse some working on that day sometimes, etc.
4.) Pray and stand firm when the persecution comes. Do not be coerced into going against your conviction.
5.) Ask yourself if this particular job is worth fighting for or should you move on to ‘greener pastures.’
6.) Seek legal counsel right away when persecuted (demoted, written up, harassed, etc.) as you only have a short period of time in which to file your case.
7.) Pray. … and stand still beholding the salvation of the Lord.
Internet Resources On The Subject:
These are very informative links to the laws on this subject.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/vii.html
Archived EEOC site: http://archive.eeoc.gov/
Search for Religious Discrimination; EEOC: Facts About Religious Discrimination; U.S. Department of Labor: 41 CFR 60-50.3 – Accommodations to religious observance and practice.
Unrelated to the legal issue, but informative, you may want to read about which day is the true Sabbath in the following pages at www.totw.org:
Sunday Notes & Quotes : Who changed the Sabbath?
Sabbath Commandment Vs Sunday Law
Disclaimer: Author is not qualified to give legal counsel. The opinion of the writer is for religious counsel and for informational use only. Seek qualified legal advice before taking any related actions. Act in good conscience as a follower of Christ. Consider being wronged for well-doing and taking it well without retribution.