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Scheduled to Work on Saturday Sabbath

Employers are not necessarily required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs by allowing them to have their Sabbath off, if the accommodation would provide a hardship to the employer.

November 26, 2007
From 1990 until 2003, the U.S. Postal Service in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, granted a religious accommodation to Martin Tepper, a mail carrier who was a practicing Messianic Jew, by not assigning him Saturday work schedules. Tepper's union contract provided that all mail carriers received Sunday off and that the second day off per week was determined on a rotating basis—with the exception of Tepper, who always was given Saturday off so that he could observe the Sabbath. When staffing levels decreased, other employees were scheduled to work extra Saturdays or were asked to cover Tepper's routes.

After other mail carriers objected, employees voted to recommend termination of Tepper's religious accommodation. Tepper was allowed to use annual leave and other unpaid leave to take off Saturdays, and stopped working on a significant number of Saturdays for 2003 and 2004. Tepper sued for violations of Title VII, claiming that the Postal Service had refused to accommodate his religious beliefs as required by Title VII.

A U.S. district court dismissed the case, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cleveland affirmed. The 6th Circuit held that Tepper could not demonstrate that he had been discharged or disciplined. Since Tepper was "simply not being paid for time that he has not worked,'' the court stated, his pay reduction did not constitute a materially adverse employment action. Working Saturdays was just a requirement of the job for which he was hired, the 6th Circuit held. The court also rejected Tepper's argument that he was treated differently from other employees who were able to avoid working on their Sabbaths (usually Sundays), since the Postal Service limited Sunday job assignments. Tepper v. Potter, 6th Cir., No. 06-4182 (10/15/07).

Impact: Employers are not necessarily required to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs by allowing them to have their Sabbath off, if the accommodation would provide a hardship to the employer.

Workforce Management, November 5, 2007 -- Subscribe Now!