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Sabbath Keeping and the Workplace
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Sabbath Keeping and the Workplace
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Sabbath and the Workplace
When Your Boss Makes You Work on the Sabbath

By David C. Gibbs, Jr. 01/05/05
http://www.christianitytoday.com/workplace/articles/workonthesabbath.html

What should you do when company policy violates your religious convictions and the federal agency that is supposed to help doesn't? Consider what Doug and Andy,* two Christian assembly line workers, did to resolve a seemingly no-win situation in which their employer was discriminating against them on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Doug and Andy worked for a company whose equal employment policy propounded that "men and women of all races, religions and backgrounds have capabilities to offer in pursuit of the corporate purpose." The company, however, abandoned that principle with respect to Doug and Andy, two men whose combined service record totaled twenty years. 

The problem began when the plant where they worked switched to a continuous seven-day operation. All employees were scheduled to work two days on, two days off, three days on (2-2-3) which forced Doug and Andy to work every other Sunday. They held sincere religious beliefs against working on Sundays and initially resisted the 2-2-3 schedule by voting against its adoption in the union contract. When the contract passed, they asked for a religious accommodation that would not require them to work on Sundays.

For a few months a sympathetic foreman allowed them to take Sundays off, but the arrangement was short lived. Management had previously accommodated five pastors so they could preach in their churches on Sundays, so Doug and Andy formally requested a religious accommodation from corporate management. They offered to swap shifts, take vacation time on Sundays, work another day or even take self-excused days without pay. Corporate management denied every one of their suggestions. 

Doug then filed a religious discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)-the federal agency responsible for enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law mandates that employers reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of employees unless it causes undue hardship on business operations.

But instead of getting better, things got worse. Doug's company refused to let him trade shifts with other employees and then imposed disciplinary points on his record for missing a scheduled Sunday. Meanwhile, Andy had also decided to file a complaint with the EEOC, but after a few months, he received a letter stating that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations of religious discrimination by the company. Management continued to discipline Doug and Andy until they were just two disciplinary points away from being fired.

At this point Doug and Andy's pastor suggested they call the Christian Law Association. Attorneys prepared a federal lawsuit for them and notified the company of their intention to sue. The letter outlined the discrimination, the company's legal duty to provide religious accommodation, and the alternatives available to Sunday work.
Finally, the situation improved. The company was in no position to defend against a lawsuit because it had recently paid nearly $184 million dollars in an unrelated class action settlement. The company's lawyer was more than ready to discuss accommodation options. God was truly at work.

Doug and Andy's attorneys negotiated with the company's lawyer and with the union president to determine reasonable accommodations. A settlement was reached that not only guaranteed the men would not suffer any loss of pay, but also ensured the company would not suffer productivity losses. The men were permitted to swap shifts with other employees, and management even agreed to post notices on the bulletin board for this purpose. If trading didn't work, Doug and Andy could substitute their scheduled Sunday and work on other days of the week, or take a vacation day when substitution was not possible. 

God provided even more than Doug and Andy expected. When the union contract was renegotiated, their attorneys helped Doug and Andy prepare a Sunday work religious accommodation paragraph to be included in the contract. Union members approved the amended contract by a margin of four to one.

This story is just one of many in which Christian employees face religious discrimination. If you think you may be facing religious discrimination at work, do the following:

» Understand your rights. Christians have many protections when it comes to workplace discrimination. Under federal law, employees with sincerely held religious beliefs that conflict with a work requirement must be accommodated as long as the accommodation does not cause undue hardship on the employer.

» Inform your employer of your sincerely held religious beliefs. Sometimes, employers are unaware of their legal obligations. In some cases, employers are willing to work with employees and make adjustments to accommodate religious beliefs. Be prepared, though. Some employers do not handle these situations in an empathetic manner.

» Explain your religious rights to your employer. If an employer refuses to accommodate an employee, it may help to have a lawyer send a detailed letter to your employer informing them of your legal rights. 
*Names have been changed to protect those involved.

David Gibbs is the president of the Christian Law Association, an organization that has provided free legal assistance to thousands of workplace believers. For more information about the legal missionary ministry of the CLA, please call (727) 399-8300 or visit www.ChristianLaw.org
Copyright © 2005 Regent University School of Business/FaithInTheWorkplace.com.


When you are faced with a problem in observance of Sabbath:
  1. Contact your pastor and/or your conference Religious Liberty Director at the first sign of a Sabbath employment problem.
  2. Conduct yourself above reproach at all times. Others often know more than we realize about Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and will watch all aspects of your life.
  3. It is the little details in a case that are important to remember. At every step make detailed memos of . . .
    • People
    • Places
    • Dates
    • Times of Meetings
    • Conversations
    • Incidents that may take place
Your Rights Under the Law

The Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination on the basis of religion where there are 15 or more employees (state law may be less) unless accommodation would cause undue hardship. An employer (or an employment agency or a union) has a duty to attempt to accommodate the religious beliefs of employees (and applicants) unless the employer can show that accommodation would result in an undue hardship on the operation of the business. 

Your Rights During the Job Selection Process

The EEOC guidelines forbid an employer to ask a prospective employee any questions regarding availability to work on specific days, such as Friday nights and Saturdays, until the job has been offered. At that point, if the employer has a business necessity, he/she may inquire into your availability for Sabbath work, but he/she then has the same obligation to attempt to make an accommodation as he/she does for employees already on the job. 

In your interview, if it is made clear that you are being hired to work on a shift that includes the Sabbath, or that Sabbath work is a condition of employment, be certain that the job is offered before you discuss the Sabbath schedule problem. Do not accept employment conditions that include Sabbath working hoping to make a change later. When the job is definitely offered to you and the only problem is Sabbath scheduling, request an accommodation in harmony with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the EEOC guidelines.  If the problem arises during the oral interview, follow up the conversation with the request in writing for an accommodation. 

Some Sabbatarians have been refused employment when no Sabbath problem existed merely because the applicant brought up the subject (in the selection process) and the employer decided to eliminate any potential problem.

If the job description includes Sabbath work hours, request an accommodation at the time of your acceptance.  Your employer is entitled to prompt notice, and you want to give him/her maximum opportunity to resolve the problem.

If the prospective employer fails to hire you, be sure to ask the reason you were denied employment, especially if the subject of Sabbath work has been raised. 

If refused employment because of the Sabbath, obtain a copy of the labor contract to determine if it caused the accommodation not to be made.

Keep all papers, newspaper ads, notices, and other documents relating to the prospective employer's advertising for new employees.

Sabbath Scheduling After Being Hired
When you learn you are scheduled to work on Friday night or Sabbath:
  1. Immediately ask your work supervisor for an accommodation for your Sabbath needs.
  2. If an oral request is ignored or refused, put your request in writing.
  3. Do not wait until the last minute.
  4. Keep copies of letters, notes, and documents for your records.
  5. Be sure to explain fully in writing your Sabbath needs.  Do not write the letter alone; consult with your pastor or the Religious Liberty director.  Include the following items in your letter
    • Sabbath begins at sundown Friday night and ends on sundown Saturday night.
    • You must have sufficient time to leave the job and reach home before the Sabbath begins.
    • If you come to work after sundown on Saturday night, you cannot arrive until a specified time after sundown in order not to have to prepare for work on Sabbath.
What to do When Negotiating a Sabbath Schedule
  1. Do not be arbitrary or demanding
  2. Be cooperative and flexible
  3. Remember that you would not like an employee telling you how to handle your business.
  4. Offer to work on Sundays, or to work fewer hours if you can afford the loss in pay, to trade shifts, or to make a lateral transfer to another department in order to solve the problem.
  5. Inquire into your seniority standing in any move to be sure you do not lose seniority or pension rights.
  6. Do not offer to give up seniority rights or benefits.
  7. Although the burden in making an accommodation rests on your employer, cooperate in helping your employer find an accommodation even if it means changing shifts or transferring to a department with slightly less pay.
  8. If a test for employment selection is given on the Sabbath, ask for an alternate examination schedule.  If an oral request is denied, put it in writing. EEOC guidelines include specific requirements for employers to make accommodations for selection examinations.
What to do When Disciplinary Action is Taken
  1. Secure a copy of the labor union contract or company work policies so that you know the procedures used for discipline and dismissal.
  2. Insist on receiving written notices rather than oral notices for disciplinary actions such as layoffs or termination. If this is refused, make a memo of the incident for your records, noting as nearly as possible all relevant items discussed.
  3. If you are fired orally, ask for a written notice that includes the reason for dismissal.
  4. If you cannot obtain written notice, try to return to work to make sure they have, in fact, dismissed you. Send a letter to your employer acknowledging that you were fired orally without written notice and stating your understanding of the reason you were fired or otherwise disciplined. Please make sure you keep a copy of all correspondence.
Unemployment Action
  1. Apply for unemployment compensation immediately. It is important for you to say you were dismissed for following your religious beliefs and practices.
  2. Look for work. Keep a list of every contact:  names, dates, places, etc.
  3. If unemployment compensation is refused, contact the Religious Liberty director.
Do not try to handle appeal procedures alone.

When any document arrives, or when any disciplinary action is taken against you, be sure to contact the Religious Liberty director.  Deadlines for filing notices or appeals may be involved.  Your legal right to appeal may be in danger if you delay.

Filing a Complaint or Grievance
Never threaten court or agency action. Explore every possible solution first.  Threats often make obtaining accommodations more difficult.

Although you have a legal right to file a complaint of religious discrimination with a local, state or federal agency, the church urges you to consult with the Religious Liberty director before filing.  The church asks you to do this because the results in your case may have either favorable or unfavorable effects on the outcome of other cases involving Seventh-day Adventists.

Before contacting, seeking help from, or filing a grievance with a labor organization (if one is involved) contact the Conference Religious Liberty department for counsel.

Additional Information Involving Sabbath Accommodation:

DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB! 

Never make a statement such as "I'll quit my job before I will work on the Sabbath." In some cases this has been construed to be a "voluntary quit."  Rather, if it is necessary, say, "I would have to lose my job rather than work on Sabbath."

If you are coerced into signing a statement of resignation, or if you quit because an employer makes conditions unbearable, redress may still be available depending on the circumstances. 
Remember, always conduct yourself as a representative of Jesus Christ.  Your witness, properly given, may lead someone else to Christ.

SAMPLE LETTERS:

There are several sample letters provided for Adventist members to help resolve problems in observance of the Sabbath.  After consultation with the Religious Liberty director for the Southern New England Conference, members may copy and paste the appropriate letter into any word processing program. After the letter is copied to the word processor, it may be changed to fit specific circumstances.  
These six letters are written to a members' employer or prospective employer:
  1. Member Dismissed Orally
  2. Sabbath Examination
  3. Letter Explaining Sabbath Begins at Sunset
  4. New Employee Requesting Accommodation
  5. Members Previously Accommodated
  6. New Adventists Starting to Keep Sabbath
 
 (Date)
(Employer)
(Address)
(City, State, Zip)

RE: (Name of Church Member)

Dear :

On (date), I was informed orally by (name) that I was not to return to work because I would not work on the Sabbath, which I observe from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. I requested a written notice, but it was not given to me. Since I received nothing in writing, I returned to work on, and, but was prevented from going to work by ______________________.
In lieu of a written notice but in harmony with the oral statements, I shall assume that I was dismissed because of my religious observance and practice.

Respectfully yours,
(Name)


Copies to:
Member's file
Religious Liberty Department 

(Date)
(Employer)
(Address)
(City, State, Zip )

RE: (Name of Church Member)

Dear :

As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since , I observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, as taught by the church in harmony with the Old and New Testament teachings in the Bible. (When applicable: I have worked for (name of company) -years and have had no Sabbath problems. ) I am now asked to take an examination in order to be able to retain my job. I have been informed that the only time the examination is given is on Saturday, my Sabbath.

The Sabbath is sacred to me and my family, and I devote these hours to God. It would be a violation of my deeply held, sincere religious convictions to take the examination on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday night and ends at sundown Saturday. I therefore respectfully request that you make an accommodation for my religious beliefs, observances, and practice in harmony with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act arid the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC guidelines specifically address the practice of giving examinations on days of religious observance. For your convenience, I am enclosing a copy. Please let me know what can be done in order to accommodate my religious observance and practice.

Sincerely yours,
(Name)

Copies to:
Member's file
Union Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department
 

(Date)
(Employer)
(Address)
(City, State, Zip)
RE:  (Name of Church Member)

Dear____________________:

As I believe you are aware, I am a Seventh-day Adventist, and as such, I observe the seventh day of the week (Saturday) as the Sabbath, as taught by my church in harmony with the Bible. 

It would be a violation of my deeply held, sincere religious conviction to work on the Sabbath which begins at sunset Friday and ends at sunset Saturday. Since our company operates on the basis of a five-day work week, Monday through Friday, there has not been any problem in my work schedule as yet, as far as being off on Sabbaths is concerned.

However, in the winter months, which we are approaching, the sun sets much earlier than at present, as early as ____ p.m. In order to retain my integrity in Sabbath observance, it is important that I be allowed to leave work each Friday just prior to sunset. I anticipate this arrangement would be necessary for only five to six weeks, or until the sun starts to set after 5:00 p.m.  I realize the need for this requested accommodation is still a few months away, but I wanted to make arrangements in advance, so that we can discuss it and plan for the accommodation. 

Please bear in mind that I do not request Sabbath hours off in order to engage in secular activities or just simply to be off work. It is our belief that during these sacred hours we must lay aside all secular activities, shopping, sports, entertainment, and employment.  Beginning at Sundown Friday until Saturday evening, my time is devoted to God. 
I therefore respectfully request that you make an accommodation for my religious belief, observance, and practice (in harmony with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) by allowing me to leave work on Fridays in question just prior to sunset. I am certainly willing to come in to work early on Fridays or even to make up work on Sundays, or to cooperate in whatever other arrangements may need to be made so I can retain my Sabbath observance according to my conviction. 
I look forward to hearing from you soon regarding this request.

Sincerely yours,

(Name)
Copies to: Members file
Religious Liberty Director


(Date)
(Employer)
(Address)
(City, State, Zip)

RE: (Name of Church Member)

Dear :

In applying for work at __________________ I have been informed that I am to be assigned to work on the Sabbath. As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since-, I observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath as taught by the church in harmony with the Bible. 
I do not request to have the Sabbath off in order to have an extra day at home to catch up on odd jobs or to engage in recreation or amusements. Secular activities-shopping, sports, employment, and entertainment-are laid aside. The Sabbath is sacred to me and my family, and I devote these hours to God.

It would be a violation of my deeply held, sincere religious convictions to work on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday night and ends at sundown Saturday. I therefore respectfully request that you make an accommodation for my religious beliefs, observances, and practice in harmony with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I want you to know that I will assist you in finding an accommodation. Here are some suggestions:

1. Change to a shift or department that does not operate on Friday night or Saturday.
2. Swap shifts with other employees.
3. Work on Sunday or holidays in place of Saturday.
4. Work a flexible schedule so that I can leave the job on Friday afternoon-minutes before
sundown. (Fill in the time needed, depending on distance from home.)
5. Make a temporary accommodation while a permanent one is being arranged. This could entail
a temporary assignment to another job or the use of a portion of my annual leave.
6. Examine some other plan that you might suggest as a solution.

I will be glad to discuss this further with you in person.

Sincerely yours,
(Name)



Copies to: Member's file
Union Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department
 
(Date)

(Employer)
(Address)
(City, State, Zip )
RE: (Name of Church Member)

Dear :

As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since, I observe the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, as taught by the church in harmony with the Old and New Testament teachings in the Bible. 
(When applicable: I have worked for [name of company] -years and have had no Sabbath problems.) respectively request that this type of accommodation be continued, and that I not be required to work Saturday because of an arbitrary work rule.)

I do not request to have the Sabbath off in order to have an extra day at home to catch up on odd jobs or to engage in recreation or amusements.  Secular activities -- such as shopping, sports, employment, and entertainment -- are laid aside. The Sabbath is sacred to me, and I devote these hours to God. 

It would be a violation of my deeply held, sincere religious convictions to work on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday night and ends at sundown Saturday. I therefore respectfully request that you make an accommodation for my religious beliefs, observances, and practice in harmony with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act arid the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
I want to assist you in finding an accommodation.  Here are some suggestions:
  1. Change to a shift or department that does not operate on Friday night or Saturday.
  2. Swap shifts with other employees.
  3. Work on Sunday or holidays in place of Saturday.
  4. Work a flexible schedule so that I can leave the job on Friday afternoon-minutes before sundown. (Fill in the time needed, depending on distance from home.)
  5. Make a temporary accommodation while a permanent one is being arranged. This could entail a temporary assignment to another job or the use of a portion of my annual leave.
Examine some other plan that you might suggest as a solution.
I will be glad to discuss this further with you in person.

Sincerely yours,
(Name)
Copies to:
Member's file
Union Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department
(Date)
(Employer)
(Address)
(City, State, Zip)

RE:  (Name of Church Member)

Dear __________________:

A most important problem has been weighing heavily upon my mind, and since it concerns my work situation, I now formally bring it to you by letter. I think you know how greatly I appreciate my work with (name of company).

Recently I became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (or: I am studying to become a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church) and from a sincere religious conviction have begun to observe the Sabbath, which we keep, according to the Bible, from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.  It would now be a violation of my deeply held, sincere religious convictions to work during Sabbath hours.  Therefore, I respectfully request that you make an accommodation of my religious belief and practice in harmony with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

I do not request to have the Sabbath off in order to have an extra day at home to catch up on odd jobs or to engage in recreation.  All secular activities -- shopping, sports, entertainment, and employment -- are laid aside.  The Sabbath is sacred to me, and I now devote these hours to God. I asked my pastor to write to affirm the credibility of my new religious beliefs and experience. 

I would like to suggest that an accommodation could be made by flexible scheduling for those times when it would fall my turn to work on Friday nights or Saturdays to other days of the week that do not pose a problem to me. Please understand that I am willing to work Fridays until sunset, Sundays, holidays, and evenings to do fill-in work for other employees.

Whatever adjustments would need to be made, you can count on me to do everything I can to cooperate fully.  I think you know I have the interest of the company at heart. If the matter could be settled at an early date, I would appreciate it. If it would help, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter further with you at your convenience.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

(Name)
Copies to: Member's File
Religious Liberty Director