Do Employees Have to Work on the Sabbath

August 20, 1999
Issue: Digger Mining Company operates a mine on a 24-hour basis utilizing three shifts of workers. After he was offered a job, but before he began work, Peter informed Digger that his church forbade him from working on his Sabbath, sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. Digger agreed never to schedule Peter for work on Saturdays. Peter began his employment with Digger and was successfully accommodated for three years, at which time the mine was sold. New management insisted on scheduling Peter for work on Saturday, denied him the use of a personal day to observe a religious holiday, and suspended him for refusing to work his Saturday schedule. The new owners did, however, offer Peter a lower-graded position that did not require work on weekends. After rejecting the position, Peter left the company and filed an EEOC charge of religious discrimination. Did Digger violate Title VII?

Answer: Yes. Absent proof that continuing to accommodate Peter by not scheduling him on Saturdays would create an undue hardship, the EEOC would find that Digger's discontinuing the practice and its attempt to demote Peter violated Title VII. Similarly, without proof of undue hardship, Digger's refusal to let Peter use a personal day for religious observance is a denial of religious accommodation.

As an HR director, you know that employers are required by Title VII to provide reasonable accommodation for an individual's religious needs unless the employer can show that providing the accommodation would create undue hardship on the conduct of business. Common accommodations include:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • flexible arrival and departure times
  • floating or optional holidays
  • flexible work breaks
  • working through lunch in exchange for early departure
  • permitting employees to makeup time lost due to religious observances
  • Voluntary substitutes and swaps of shifts, assignments, etc.
  • Lateral transfer and/or change of job assignment
  • Modifying workplace practices, policies and/or procedures

Title VII's accommodation requirement imposes responsibilities and obligations on both the individuals needing accommodation and the employer from whom the accommodation is sought.

Employee must notify need of accommodation.
An employee needing an accommodation is obligated to make the employer aware of the need for religious accommodation. Similarly, an applicant needing an accommodation to fully participate in the application process is obligated to make the prospective employer aware of his or her need for religious accommodation.

Employer responsible for offering reasonable accommodation.
Once an accommodation has been requested, it is the employer's responsibility to offer an accommodation that will reasonably accommodate the individual's religious belief or practice, unless the employer can demonstrate undue hardship.

Employee must cooperate with accommodation efforts.
The individual needing accommodation is obligated to cooperate with the employer's accommodation efforts. For example, an employee needing accommodation could not refuse to say whether a suggested accommodation would meet his or her need and then file a discrimination charge alleging that the employer's accommodation was insufficient.

Accommodation does not have to be one preferred by employee.
The employer does not have to provide the accommodation preferred by the individual needing accommodation as long as the accommodation the employer does provide effectively eliminates any religious conflict. Although an individual does not have to accept an accommodation, he or she cannot insist on a different accommodation if the offered accommodation was sufficient to satisfy his or her religious need.

Source: "Religious Discrimination," part of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Technical Assistance Program. May 1999 (Revised).

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.