How to Deal

Finding Time for Work and Worship

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, June 27, 2007; 4:32 PM

I work in the retail industry. For the past six weeks, I haven't gotten a Sunday off. I requested a Sunday off and was told that if they give me Sunday off they will cut my hours. This would jeopardize my medical benefits. I have been denied my time of worship. What should I do?

If you have not done so already, make it clear to your employer that working Sundays interferes with your ability to practice your religion. By law, your employer is required to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs, but only if you let them know your concerns.

But wait. Before you become too optimistic, I need to make you aware of some other important limitations on the rule. Your employer is only required to provide you with a "reasonable accommodation."

If accommodating your desire to have Sundays off would result in a greater than minimal burden on your employer, that might be viewed as an "undue hardship" under the law. Employers are under no obligation to provide religious accommodations that would result in an "undue hardship."

What that means in real life will depend upon the interpretation adopted by a court hearing a case like yours. According to guidance offered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "An employer can show undue hardship if accommodating an employee's religious practices requires more than ordinary administrative costs, diminishes efficiency in other jobs, infringes on other employees' job rights or benefits, impairs workplace safety, causes co-workers to carry the accommodated employee's share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work, or if the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation."

Most would agree that allowing employees to swap shifts would not pose too great a burden on the employer. And many employers do allow for these employee-driven arrangements. It would not be reasonable to require your employer to force others to trade shifts with you or to incur additional unprecedented overtime costs. But a simple swap initiated by you should be just fine. Has your company denied such a request?

For more guidance, visit www.eeoc.gov or call your local EEOC Field Office.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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