Court rules working on Sunday is not a basis for discrimination byLindy Korn, Esq.

An employee failed to establish that he had a bona fide religious reason that prevented him from working on Sundays or around the Christmas holiday.

The facts are as follows: After periodically working on weekends for 14 years, the employee alleged that his assigned duty on Sundays, and the employer’s failure to grant him vacation time during Christmas, was discriminatory due to his religion. The employee contended that he was prevented from acting upon his “Christian duties” in attending religious services and taking care of his family.

A court rejected the employee’s claims, finding that the employee was applying a subjective definition of religion. It distinguished a mere personal preference wrapped in religious garb to that of a particular belief system that is an essential part of one’s religious faith. It also took note of the fact the employee only recently objected to Sunday work after working on weekends for many years. Additionally, the employee failed to offer any explanation for why he did not attend religious services for even those Sundays he was off work.

Perhaps the reasoning behind the court’s decision of finding that the employee had a duty to work on Sunday was because of the past practice and custom at his place of employment, which included working on weekends. It is also clear that the court’s interpretation of a religious, faith-based reason for needing Sunday off did not extend to a personal preference or convenience, including religious services and family care.

The fact that this case was actually submitted to a court is evidence of a communication breakdown between employer and employee, which can be fatal to a healthy workplace relationship. The employer may have inquired as to why the employee needed or wanted time off for religious purposes, where previously that was not necessary. Exploring the change of circumstances based of the employee’s work history may have led to a better decision and option for both employer and employee.