The Religious Liberty Department is dedicated to the defense, promotion, and preservation of the religious freedoms granted to us in our national constitution, bill of rights, and by our Creator. We assist our constituents with in preserving these rights – including Sabbath accommodation issues.
Religious Liberty is not just about the annual offering to distribute the Religious Liberty magazine. The Religious Liberty Department provides a vital service for Seventh-day Adventists who are faced with employer-related problems in keeping the Sabbath and issues related to labor union membership.
This section of the Arizona Conference website will provide tools church members can use in beginning the process necessary to resolve those issues. I am here to help church members use these tools, and to resources of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to resolve issues including Sabbath observance and labor unions.
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 . . .
- Times of Meetings
- 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 accommodtion 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 acknowleding 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.
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.