I Cannot Work On The Sabbath!

This post could have been written last year – in fact, it was (almost)!

Change the venue from North Carolina to South Carolina, and the religion from Seventh-day Adventist to Hebrew Pentecostal and the facts of today’s post are virtually identical to a post from last September.

Seems that a South Carolina company hired a Hebrew Pentecostal truck driver who told them that he could not, for religious reasons, work on the Sabbath, but it eventually fired him for refusing to do so.  The EEOC has now sued the company.

The post last year involved — a North Carolina company which hired a Seventh-day Adventist truck driver whose religious beliefs require that he not work on the Sabbath.  “The company’s facilities were usually closed on Saturdays and employees only worked Saturdays on limited occasions. … but the company asked [him to work on a particular] Saturday.”  He refused and was fired.  The company settled the EEOC lawsuit for $42,500.

The conflict between work schedules and religious beliefs seems to be a big issue: and this new EEOC lawsuit is not the first one involving a Hebrew Pentecostal employee being forced to work on the Sabbath.  The EEOC previously sued a company which claimed that a bookkeeper was told that he had to work Saturdays, but being a Hebrew Pentecostal, who could not work from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, he asked instead to be permitted the accommodation of working Sundays or late on week nights other than Fridays.  He was fired.


Ok, so I think that we need to briefly review the law.

Last July I noted that the majority of religious discrimination cases which I have seen “fall into two categories: those whose religious faith requires them to refrain from working on certain days, such as the Sabbath, and those whose religiously-required dress or grooming is not in compliance with a corporate ‘appearance’ policy.”

Unless it creates an undue burden, an employee’s religious practices and beliefs must be accommodated by an employer.   And seeking such an accommodation through an interactive process with the employee is a must.

Moreover, and this is important: most religious accommodations are not unduly costly!  Which is why I am always a little stunned that employers fail to accommodate a religious belief when it is so easy to do.

An EEOC attorney just noted that “employers have an obligation to endeavor to fairly balance an employee’s right to practice his or her religion and the operation of the company.”

EEOC’s Education for Employers

As part of its outreach and education, the EEOC has noted that it has many resources:

“EEOC has developed information to educate employers, employees, and the public about religious discrimination, including Questions and Answers: Religious Discrimination in the Workplace and Best Practices for Eradicating Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.  Last December, EEOC released docu­ments for employees and employers that focused on discrimination against people who are or are perceived to be Muslim or Middle Eastern, and an accompanying background summary.”

Employers:  why not download the EEOC’s material and save yourselves some money.

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]