Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq. – Saturdays Off?

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QUESTION: Recently, my employer announced that, beginning next month, all
employees will be required to come in to work one Saturday each month. Although we will be paid, overtime, for working the extra day and I could use the extra money — I
can’t do it. I’m Jewish and believe God ordained Saturday — the Sabbath — as a day of
rest which must be kept holy. It’s one of the Ten Commandments! I asked my boss if I
could be exempt from the Saturday work on religious grounds, but he said that would
leave him without a full shift one Saturday a month, and he’d have to keep the business
closed. Without everyone available, he could not conduct business. My first shift is
scheduled at the end of next month. If I don’t show, I’m afraid I will lose my job.

ANSWER: If at least 15 people are employed where you work, you are probably off the
hook for the Saturday shift. Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires
employers to accommodate the “religious practices” of their employees unless doing so
would impose an “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Groff v DeJoy that an employer can prove a
worker’s request would be an “undue hardship” if the accommodation would “result in
substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.”
In that case, Groff, a USPS employee, asked for Sundays off for religious reasons.
Allowing Groff the day off, however, meant other workers, including the local
postmaster, had to cover for him. The Third Circuit had ruled in favor of USPS, finding
that the accommodation “imposed on [Groff’s] coworkers, disrupted the workplace and
workflow, and diminished employee morale.”
The Supreme Court reversed: The Third Circuit had used the wrong standard, and had
only required USPS to show only that giving Groff Sundays off would require it to bear
“more than a de minimis cost” (that is, a small or trifling cost). Accordingly, the case was
sent back to the Third Circuit, for review under the new standard of “substantially
increased costs.”

Before your employer decides you must work Saturdays, he first needs to look at ways
he could meet your needs and that of the business, even if that accommodation might
substantially increase the costs “on the conduct of the business.” For example, one or
more of your co-workers might be willing to take on an extra Saturday; or perhaps an
additional person could be hired to work part-time, Saturdays only, allowing everyone to
reduce the number of Saturdays they are asked to work.
As it stands, your boss is likely in violation of federal law, and could face a lawsuit.
But, if less than 15 people are employed at your place of work, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen
Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) applies, and the issue becomes murky. Unlike its federal
counterpart, the ELCRA does not require an employer to accommodate a worker’s
religious beliefs; it prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. So, you might have a
case if your employer treated you differently because you are Jewish. For example, if a
Christian worker who objected to working on a Sunday or other religious holiday was
allowed a pass, but you were fired for the same or similar conduct.
That said, the law in Michigan is not clear cut, so an employer would be wise to
consider accommodations for the religious beliefs or practices of employees, even if
doing so is inconvenient or involves some cost.

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By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 970-0310
(248) 970-0311 facsimile
[email protected]