Religious Observance and Employment: Work Schedules

coexistComplete schedule flexibility is a very common requirement for both full and part time entry level jobs. Adding schedule conflicts for any reason, no matter how legitimate and important, makes our clients less competitive in the job market.

This post focuses on practical solutions and talking points in line with the reality of starter jobs, early employment and rapid self sufficiency. There are many legal and civil rights issues surrounding religious freedom and workplace accommodation of religious observance in the workplace.  You can read more about them in this guide from the Anti-Defamation League.

The Employer Perspective

Work schedules change from week to week depending on workload, time off requests and emergencies. Managers schedule carefully.  Absences or tardiness make their jobs harder.  Other team members pay the price in schedule changes and increased workloads. When hiring, employers often decide to hire a candidate who can be completely flexible to work any schedule as necessary.

Many starter jobs are customer service positions that need to be done during busy times for the employer. The majority of customers in the U.S. are able to shop on weekends. That’s when many hospitality and retail businesses are busiest. Most employers that are open on Saturdays and Sundays cannot guarantee regularly scheduled weekend days off to any employee.

The Reality for Most U.S. Workers

Weekends are when many religious observances happen for a variety of faiths.  The reality is that, often in their first job, no U.S. worker can expect to have regularly-scheduled days off on weekends. It would be irresponsible not to explain this fact very carefully to all clients who would strongly prefer to have weekends off for religious reasons. Doing so can also help clients avoid feelings of discrimination and protect valuable employer partnerships by screening out clients for whom the job might not be the best fit.

Talking Points for a Difficult Client Conversation

Explaining U.S. workplace expectations and cultural assumptions about religious observance is an aspect of helping clients adjust their expectations. Here are some additional talking points you can use when discussing religious observance and work schedules with clients:

  • In the US Workforce, seniority is often the best long term solution. Over time, employees are able to secure work schedules that better meet their needs. This point also reinforces the importance of sticking to a job rather than quitting too soon or hopping from job to job.
  • Over time, as clients acquire more US workforce experience, they may be able to secure a job upgrade that can offer the schedule flexibility they require.  The “best” job isn’t always the one that pays the most. We can help clients understand the factors they need to consider when deciding what is the best job for them.
  • Another solution, depending on employer policies, would be to discuss a trade with other employees who would prefer to have a different weekend day off for their own religious observance.  This solution will be more likely after a few months to demonstrate the value the client contributes in the workplace and the benefits of partnership with your agency. 

How Three Refugee Families Decided to Handle Religious Observance

Here are three quick examples of the different decisions three very observant refugee families made about working on weekends.

1.  The head of a large Muslim family felt that he had no choice but to accept a hotel housekeeping job that offered very little initial schedule flexibility. He stuck with the job and after only five months, he was able to secure a better work schedule that allowed him to work a split shift every Friday so he could attend mosque.

2.  A Christian family chose part time work at a business that was closed on Sunday. That meant that both the husband and wife had to work to earn enough money to meet their basic expenses, but were both able to attend church services regularly.

3.  A very large Seventh Day Adventist family stated from the beginning that their priority was their children’s education. So, despite the conflict with their wish to observe a Saturday day of rest, both parents took the first available job. Now, after six years in the U.S., they own their own home and all four of their children are enrolled in or have completed higher education.

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