Eeoc Establishes Historic Guidelines for Sabbath Observers

The first mandatory employment guidelines of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), were described to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as one of the “most significant developments in the effort to protect the employment rights of Sabbath observers in American law” by Howard. Zuckerman, president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA).

The text of the mandatory guidelines, improved unanimously in Washington several days ago by the five-member EEOC, cannot be publicized until they are published in the Federal Register the week of Oct. 6, Zuckerman said, but comments made by the commissioners at the meeting last week on key aspects of the guidelines were made available. He said COLPA consulted with the EEOC an formulation of the guidelines which will become effective with publication in the Federal Register.

A MAJOR STEP TOWARD EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Zuckerman said the guidelines are a major step toward providing “equal employment opportunity for thousands of members of minority religious groups who frequently face job discrimination only because of their determination to adhere to the tenets of their faith.”

He said the EEOC is the federal administrative agency which administers federal law in the field of job discrimination thus, the guidelines are the legally binding interpretation of a 1972 amendment to the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The amendment requires employers to make “reasonable accommodation” to the religious needs of employes or job applicants unless such accommodation would result in “undue hardship” for employers. The guidelines cover all levels of government and all private employers with 15 or more employes.

Zuckerman said that two long standing problems for Sabbath observers-pre-employment inquiries which elicit information about religious practices, and make-up time requirements – are dealt with in the new guidelines. He said these two issues make up a substantial portion of the requests for help COLPA receives.

GUIDELINES’ REQUIREMENTS

He said the guidelines severely restrict and generally make suspect the use of pre-employment inquiries regarding availability. They also require employers to consider permitting the employee to make up time off for religious reasons, as requested by the employee, when ever this is reasonable. He said the guidelines also spell out when an accommodation is required under the law and what employers and unions must do to being about an accommodation.

Zuckerman noted the guidelines are based on an expensive record developed in 1978 in hearings in New York, Milwaukee and Los Angeles. He said the hearings, in which COLPA helped the EEOC to identify sources for witnesses in a variety of industries, demonstrated conclusively that Sabbath observers could be accommodated easily in most jobs and that inability to accommodate was the exception rather than the rule.

He said the hearings and the resultant guidelines stemmed from a COLPA initiative to the EEOC soon after a 1977 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt, in the opinion of many observers, on the viability of Sabbath observer legal protection. Subsequently, Zuckerman said. federal court rulings dispelled that fear.

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