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At my interview with my employer I told them that the only day I can't work is Saturdays due to my religious beliefs. I was told that was fine as long as I was ok with working on Sundays as the need for people on Sundays was greater.

Fast forward to about 3 weeks ago. I was approached by one of the Managers to discuss a promotion to a team lead. During the discussion, I again mentioned that I was not available on Saturdays due to my religious beliefs.

The next day, the same manager came to discuss the promotion with me further and said that he had discussed the Saturday issue and that it was fine and no issue for me to have it off and that the only days I could not have off were Friday, Sunday, and Monday because those were our freight days and other high volume days and that for my 2nd day off for week I could choose between the remaining 3 days.

Now 2 weeks later after accepting the promotion I get asked by the HR lady if I realize that I will have to work some Saturdays. I told her what my manager said and she said, " oh, well I guess he will have to remove you from the schedule on that day."

A few days later I reminded my manager that I am supposed to have Saturdays off due to my religious beliefs and he said, " You will have them for this 3 month quarter but next 3 month quarter you won't because our company doesn't work that way, it has a rotating schedule."

Well now, I'm not even getting the 3 months of them he said the other day as the schedule for next week has me scheduled to work on my sabbath day.

I'm in the USA and most of these discussions have been verbally done so other than a text with the person who originally hired me, reminding him just before I started that I can't work on Saturdays because of my religious beliefs m, I have no other proof to show that I don't work on that day. I do have a few coworkers and family members that know I don't work on that day due to my religious beliefs that can be witnesses.

What do I do to get them to uphold the verbal agreement they made before they gave me my promotion?

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3 Answers 3

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The first order of business for you is to put everything in writing.

An email to your Manager outlining your issue with working on Saturday. Reference that you made it clear prior to accepting the promotion that you are unable to work on this day and remind them that you being able to observe the sabbath was a condition of accepting the role.

Next up would be to gather some evidence that you are a practicing insert correct religion here and the time you have spent with that faith e.g. an email from your pastor/rabbi/imam etc. stating that you've been a member of their congregation for X number of years

The good news is that I believe there is a SCOTUS case on this very issue as to whether observation of the Sabbath is constitutionally protected - the Case is Groff v DeJoy. Depending on the Ruling for that case really matters for you.

The bad news is that this case hasn't been heard yet.

It could be that the SCOTUS rules that a company cannot force a worker to work on a holy day if the belief is sincere. However some reading around the case (I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice) is that the current opinion is that so long as it doesn't create 'Undue Hardship' for the company - the example given is if the company has to hire extra workers.

Absent a SCOTUS ruling, if the company reneges on it's deal, then I would suggest you will want to look elsewhere. Companies that don't honor verbal agreements are seldom trustworthy in the long run.

Also - as a side note, in future, if you are doing something like this - always put it in writing.

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    @Obie2.0 - I read a little of the case and whilst you are correct, that the case is specifically about a Christian not working Saturday, the wider constitutional issue (which is what SCOTUS generally addresses) is does religious requirement to observe holy days trump a companies requirement for an employee to work on that day - in which case Jews not working Saturday, Mormons, 7th day adventists (I think) would all be included. May 2, 2023 at 0:22
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    @Obie2.0 What difference do you see? Unless you're implying that SCOTUS is anti-Semitic? May 2, 2023 at 3:11
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    @Obie2.0 I disagree entirely with your assessment - as the documentation I read on this made it very clear that the ruling would affect other religions. Even if I accept your premise of being sympathetic to Conservative Christianity (I don't) - then if it was brought by a Muslim, then the same considerations would apply. May 2, 2023 at 5:51
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    @TheDemonLord How awkward would it be though to ask someone to prove how religious they are on a scale of Richard Dawkins to Amar Bharati ;-) If a company asks that of an employee it is time to jump ship.
    – user135112
    May 2, 2023 at 11:15
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    It's possible the case could be decided in favor of the petitioner under a theory that wouldn't apply to the OP's case as well. Two ways I can think of are that because USPS is a government-run corporation it has special obligations to religious accommodation outside the general statute, and the second more likely one is that in that particular case the working hours did not include Sunday when the job was taken and for many years afterward, and it was only added as a working day later, so forcing the petitioner to work on Sunday would be an illegal change to the employment agreement. May 2, 2023 at 13:19
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First: understand your rights, and their limits. This is a common case in employment law. The general standard is that the employer must make "reasonable accommodation". EEOC explains in more detail: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/what-you-should-know-workplace-religious-accommodation

How does an employer determine if a religious accommodation imposes more than a minimal burden on operation of the business (or an "undue hardship")?

Examples of burdens on business that are more than minimal (or an "undue hardship") include: violating a seniority system; causing a lack of necessary staffing; jeopardizing security or health; or costing the employer more than a minimal amount.

If a schedule change would impose an undue hardship, the employer must allow co-workers to voluntarily substitute or swap shifts to accommodate the employee's religious belief or practice. If an employee cannot be accommodated in his current position, transfer to a vacant position may be possible.

Infrequent payment of overtime to employees who substitute shifts is not considered an undue hardship. Customer preference or co-worker disgruntlement does not justify denying a religious accommodation.

It is advisable for employers to make a case-by-case determination of any requested religious accommodations, and to train managers accordingly.

IANAL, but I would expect that they would try to argue that "our company does not work that way" is equivalent to a seniority system. Note that the canonical case on seniority systems vs Sabbath observance (Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison) involved a seniority system codified into a Collective Bargaining Agreement. Even then, the employer has a duty to try to make things work, see eg https://casetext.com/case/cassell-v-skywest-inc

Next, try to reach an agreement that can work for you and your employer. Suggest that you are open to any of the possibilities mentioned in https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/questions-and-answers-religious-discrimination-workplace, and in particular see if you can find someone willing to swap with you.

An employer may be able to reasonably accommodate an employee by allowing flexible arrival and departure times, floating or optional holidays, flexible work breaks, use of lunch time in exchange for early departure, staggered work hours, and other means to enable an employee to make up time lost due to the observance of religious practices.

Moreover, although it would pose an undue hardship to require employees involuntarily to substitute for one another or swap shifts, the reasonable accommodation requirement can often be satisfied without undue hardship where a volunteer with substantially similar qualifications is available to cover, either for a single absence or for an extended period of time. The employer’s obligation is to make a good faith effort to allow voluntary substitutions and shift swaps, and not to discourage employees from substituting for one another or trading shifts to accommodate a religious conflict. However, if the employer is on notice that the employee’s religious beliefs preclude him not only from working on his Sabbath but also from inducing others to do so, reasonable accommodation requires more than merely permitting the employee to swap, absent undue hardship.

Finally, consider calling the EEOC or a lawyer to see if they can help.

From the page above:

What should an applicant or employee do if he believes he has experienced religious discrimination?

Employees or job applicants should attempt to address concerns with the alleged offender and, if that does not work, report any unfair or harassing treatment to the company. They should keep records documenting what they experienced or witnessed, as well as other witness names, telephone numbers, and addresses. Employees may file a charge with the EEOC, and are legally protected from being punished for reporting or opposing job discrimination or for participating in an EEOC investigation. Charges against private sector and local and state government employers may be filed in person, by mail, or by telephone by contacting the nearest EEOC office. If there is no EEOC office in the immediate area, call toll free 1-800-669-4000 or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY) for more information. Federal sector employees and applicants should contact the EEO office of the agency responsible for the alleged discrimination to initiate EEO counseling. For more details, see How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination, https://www.eeoc.gov/employees/charge.cfm.

One more thing, since eg @TheDemonLord seems to be unaware: the Court's conception of genuine religious belief tends to be quite broad, and dependent only on the individual's subjective understanding, rather than any official approval by others, including their own religious community or leaders. See guidance and cases cited at https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/section-12-religious-discrimination#h_9593682596821610748647076

Update: The Supreme Court has in fact decided the case of Groff vs DeJoy, and expanded the protections given to religious observance. In a 9-0 decision, the Court ruled that an "employer must show that the burden of granting an accommodation would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business." It is not immediately clear to me how this would apply in the context of a seniority system, but it certainly should give any employer pause before refusing accommodation. See https://www.scotusblog.com/2023/06/justices-rule-in-favor-of-evangelical-christian-postal-worker/

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  • I had a lovely read of your link - Although broad - the section I was referring to was the sincerely held part - if there's doubt as to whether a belief is sincerely held, then proof by way of regular observance is a very easy way. Although I was surprised that a religion of 1 is constitutionally protected, so long as you can demonstrate it is sincerely held. Jul 4, 2023 at 19:53
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    Fair enough. My summary of that section: "Because the definition of religion is broad and protects beliefs, observances, and practices with which the employer may be unfamiliar, the employer should ordinarily assume that an employee’s request for religious accommodation is based on a sincerely held religious belief. " In particular, in practice the burden of proof is on the employer to show obvious lack of sincerity, rather than the other way around.
    – ozb
    Jul 4, 2023 at 23:09
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Anti-discrimination laws require that the company make a reasonable accommodation, so an initial step would be to inquire as to how they feel this would not be a reasonable accommodation. If they don't give an answer (and "that's not how we do things" isn't really an answer), that significantly benefits your case if you decide to pursue legal action (although that route may be very expensive). If they do, then you can see whether you can address those issues. If Saturday is day with a higher than average workload (although, it's rather suspicious that they've already listed three other days that come before Saturday in terms of workload), you could offer to work overtime on other days with even more of a workload, such as Sunday. Or you could offer to take a paycut.

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