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FAQs About Avoiding Religious Discrimination During Your Job Search

As you apply for a job, when do you say, “I cannot work on the Sabbath day?”

You found a job you want. You filled out the application with questions about education, work experience, and salary. At the interview, the employer reviews the responses on your application with you. He discusses the operation of the company and describes how the job you have applied for fits into the company scheme. He does not inquire as to your availability to work any particular shift or schedule.
Two days later you return to meet the manager. He discusses salary, medical, and other benefits, then offers you the job. You are ecstatic. But wait! He describes your specific work assignment, and says that as a junior member you are required to work some weekends.

Now what? When should you have revealed that you keep the Bible Sabbath?

First, if the question of availability is asked in the application, you will need to bring up the Sabbath prior to the selection process. You can do this by indicating you are unavailable from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday due to your firmly held religious beliefs and practices.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that, “A prospective employee does not have a duty to inform a prospective employer of a need for accommodation. It is only after a person is hired that the duty to inform arises, because that is when the need for accommodation arises.” Legally speaking, you may accept the job and then request accommodation.

On one hand, accepting the job before you have presented your need for an accommodation may seem misleading to the employer. On the other, premature disclosure may cause you to be eliminated from the list of candidates.

Second, if the subject of days or hours worked is broached during the interview, you will need to bring up the Sabbath. Be aware that being up front at this juncture may cost you the job, and that proving discrimination is difficult.

However, if the employer asks if you are available for Saturday work and does not hire you because you are not, he is guilty of unlawful discrimination unless he can prove or confirm that it was necessary for the person filling the job to be present on Saturdays, and that accommodating a Sabbatarian would have caused the company an undue business hardship.

Sabbath-keepers are often denied jobs under these circumstances, and the prospective employers are rarely found guilty of discrimination because of the difficulty in proving why a person was not hired.

Thus, for the applicant there remains a vulnerable time between requesting a Sabbath accommodation and being hired for the job.

What should I expect during the job selection process?

The EEOC Guidelines forbid an employer to ask an applicant questions regarding availability to work on specific days, such as Friday night and Saturday, until the job has been offered. At that point, if the employer has a business necessity, the employer may inquire into the prospective employee’s availability for Sabbath work, but the employer then has the same obligation to attempt to make an accommodation as would be done for employees already on the job.

Do not apply for a job that includes Sabbath work in the job description or schedule.

During your job interview, do not volunteer information about your religion. Many Sabbatarians have been refused employment when no Sabbath problem existed merely because the applicants brought up the subject and the employer viewed the need for a possible accommodation as a future problem.

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

What 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. The EEOC Guidelines include specific requirements for employers to make accommodations for selection examinations.

How do I find a Sabbath-friendly employer?

You need a job. You have just graduated from school. Or, you have just moved, or been laid off. You are a practicing Sabbath-keeper. Which employers are most likely to accommodate your need to keep the Sabbath holy?

Here are some tips to get started:

Check out the employer’s usual hours of operation. Find employers who close by four or five p.m., and are open Monday thru Friday. Then your only challenge will be to get an accommodation during Winter months by:

  • Being available for earlier shifts.
  • Taking shorter lunch breaks.
  • Coming in earlier, or working later.

Examples of occupations:

  • Engineering, teaching; attorneys, architects, clerical support staff, paralegal, etc.
  • Local, state, and federal government jobs.
  • Non-unionized trades offer possibilities such as welding, sheet metal, electrical, heating, air conditioning, and warehouse work.
  • Entrepreneurial work or further education is worth considering as well.
  • Avoid the U.S. Postal Service, or unionized businesses that operate seven days a week.
  • Avoid canneries, postal delivery companies, pulp and saw mills, coal and gold mining companies, and electric power companies; they usually operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Most are unionized.

The Job Search and Sabbath / Union Considerations:

Sabbath, or faith-based, accommodations are legally denied if they conflict with the seniority provisions of collective bargaining agreements between management and labor unions. Because of the lack of seniority, new employees are nearly always scheduled on Sabbath.

You will want to avoid most retail employers, as well as entertainment, tourist and transportation industries. These businesses are usually open seven days a week, and are generally non-union. Their busiest days are often Fridays and Saturdays. Since Friday evenings and Saturdays are the most sought-after times to be off by non-religious employees, there is resistance to accommodating new employees at those times.

Medical employment offers positive incentives for Sabbatarians. Several denominations operate hospitals and clinics every day around the world.

We believe that doing essential services for people who are unable to help themselves is not the same as working a job to benefit ourselves.

We believe Jesus approves of essential medical and emergency services work on the Sabbath day.

This does not mean, however, that medical work is to be used as a convenient means for avoiding Sabbath-keeping.

Sabbath Work in Seventh-day Adventist Health Care Institutions

Is working on Sabbath compromising principle when the employee is caring for the sick? We are frequently asked to advise people on this question. We believe that no scriptural tension exists between choosing to provide essential patient services on the Sabbath, as Christ did, and making loyalty to God’s requirements paramount by abstaining from routine work.

Paraphrased from the General Conference’s Statements, Guidelines & Other Documents, here are some principled guidelines for Adventist health care workers working at Seventh-day Adventist health care institutions:

1. Provide emergency care.

2. Discontinue all routine activities that could be postponed. This includes closing facilities and departments not directly related to patient care – keeping only a minimum of qualified people for emergencies in the remaining departments.

3. Postpone elective diagnostic and therapeutic services. Responsibility for determining what is necessary or what defines an emergency falls to the attending physician.

4. Close administrative and business offices to routine business.

5. Although direct patient care of the sick is a seven-day-a-week activity, SDA medical institutions allow for the sincere religious beliefs, observances and practices of each employee and prospective employee. When scheduling, it is recognized that individual consciences vary in regard to the propriety of Sabbath employment. Reasonable accommodation is always an option unless such accommodation would cause undue business hardship. (The two legal definitions of undue hardship: a variance from the seniority provisions of a labor union collective bargaining agreement and a situation where expenditure of an employer to institute the accommodation comes to more than a de minimis cost.)

Sabbath Work in Non-Adventist Health Care Institutions

Sabbatarians will want to remember Sabbath principles when employed in institutions where Sabbath hours bring no relief from routine duties. To avoid problems in Sabbath-keeping, the following suggestions are offered:

1. When you accept employment, make known your Sabbath-keeping principles and request a work schedule that exempts you from Sabbath duties. Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) will advise you if you call and write a letter in your behalf if it is needed. Call our office at 360-857-7040 for assistance.

2. Where an exemption from the Sabbath schedule is impossible, a Sabbatarian should clearly identify the duties, if any, he/she can conscientiously perform on the Sabbath and the frequency thereof.

Conclusion:

While these statements are buttressed by Biblical principle, individual members will interpret the aforementioned guidelines for themselves.

If you have further questions, call the Northwest Religious Liberty Association (NRLA) at 360-857-7040. We are open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Friday.