My faith forbids me to work on Sundays, but my workplace is open and I’m expected to be there. What are my rights?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The free-exercise clause of the First Amendment says the government may not prevent individuals from freely practicing their religious faith. Also, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the major federal anti-discrimination law that covers virtually all public and private employers with 15 or more full-time employees, generally prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion. Under Title VII, an employer must “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious practice unless doing so would create an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”

Congress didn’t define “reasonably accommodate” and “undue hardship,” so that was left to the courts. In the 1977 ruling Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, the Supreme Court said requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis (minimal) cost” to accommodate an employee’s religious practice is an undue hardship. In 1986, the Court ruled that an employer meets its obligation to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practice when it demonstrates that it has offered a reasonable alternative to work requirements interfering with faith. See Ansonia Board of Education v. Philbrook.