Do I have to ask coworkers to work on my Sabbath day?

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Question:

I'm a member of the Mormon church, and my family takes the Sabbath very seriously. We don't work on Sundays or engage in activities that require others to work for us (like shopping or eating out at restaurants). 

My manager at work just told my department that we will be switching to more variable schedules, and all of us will be expected to work a couple of weekend days each month. I met with her privately and explained that I cannot work on Sundays. She said she couldn't make an exception just for me and avoid scheduling me for Sundays, but that she would allow me to switch Sunday shifts with other employees, if I could find someone who was willing. I have two problems with this: I might not be able to find anyone who is willing to switch shifts. But even if I could, my faith prevents me from inducing others to work on the Sabbath. What should I do? 

Answer:

Allowing employees to swap shifts is a common reasonable accommodation for employees whose religious beliefs require them to take certain days off, whether to observe the Sabbath or for religious holidays, rites, or functions. Under Title VII and the laws of most states, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow employees to practice their religion. 

However, reasonable accommodation is required only if it does not create an undue hardship for the employer. In the context of religious accommodation, an undue hardship is anything more than a minimal cost, either in dollars and cents or in changes to the workplace or the jobs of other employees. It would not be reasonable to require your employer to force other employees to work your shift if they were unwilling, for example. Nor would it be reasonable to require your employer to hire someone to work your Sunday shift or to pay another employee an overtime premium for picking it up permanently as a sixth day of work. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces and interprets Title VII, has said that employers can be required to accommodate an employee's need for time off for religious observance by making a good faith effort to allow voluntary substitutions and swaps among employees. However, the EEOC has also said that, if an employee's beliefs forbid inducing others to work on the Sabbath, the employer must do more. In your situation, your manager might negotiate the swap for you by, for example, posting a notice asking any employee who wants to swap for a Sunday shift to speak to the manager.

What if the employer can't find anyone who is willing to swap voluntarily? You might face a difficult choice. Your employer is not required to force your coworkers to change their schedules to accommodate your religious beliefs. And, your employer is entitled to schedule as many employees as it needs to provide coverage for its business operations; Title VII doesn't require employers to run short-handed to accommodate an employee's need for time off. Unless an accommodation can be found that does not unduly burden your coworkers or your company, you might have to choose between your job and your Sabbath observance. 

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