Legislators Should Clarify Day of
Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), July 13, 2004, p. B1
The General Assembly
in special session today to address what the press has dubbed
Virginia's "day-of-rest snafu." These laws are far from perfect and
clearly need to be amended. How they should be amended is another
For one thing, the discussion of the law has
largely ignored one important issue: what employers should do to
accommodate employees' religious beliefs.
If the law remains unchanged,
each employee gets to choose whether to ask for a day of rest each
week, be it Sunday, Saturday or some other day. But even without the
industry exceptions to the law, which were eliminated unintentionally
during the regular legislative session, the likelihood is that few
hourly or management workers will demand their day of rest over
Most hourly workers like to earn overtime pay,
which they are entitled to under federal law any time they work more
than 40 hours in a work week. Any employer who wants to avoid paying
overtime will find it in his or her interest to comply with the
Managers and salaried professionals aren't usually
entitled to overtime pay, but they are still unlikely to demand a day
of rest if it would be contrary to the work ethic or environment in
Every employer in Virginia with more than 15 employees
is already subject to the religious accommodation requirements of Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And Virginia employers with more
than five and fewer than 15 employees are prohibited by state law from
discharging any person on the basis of religion.
Under Title VII, an
employer must accommodate the religious beliefs of an employee or an
applicant unless it imposes an "undue hardship" on the employer's
business. Such accommodation could well include granting an employee's
request for a day off each week for religious observance.
Virginia law, no business with more than five employees can fire
someone simply for refusing to work on a particular day because of
The existence of these other protections for
religious free exercise does not mean, however, that there isn't a
reason to amend Virginia's day-of-rest laws.
An important reason to do
so is that the day-of-rest laws now in effect treat workers differently
based on religious belief or practice, and they treat religious people
differently based on their employment status.
As of July 1, every
employee in Virginia is entitled to ask for and receive one day off
each week; however, only "nonmanagerial" employees can demand Saturday
or Sunday off. Nonmanagerial Christian workers who celebrate Sunday as
their Sabbath have an absolute right to request and receive Sunday as
their day off.
Nonmanagerial Seventh Day Adventist or Jewish workers
can get Saturday off, but only by providing written notice to their
employer that they "conscientiously" believe that the seventh day of
the week ought to be observed as a Sabbath and that they actually
"refrain from all secular business and labor on that day."
observe the Sabbath on Friday, however, have no right to get that day
off, and no manager has any right under state law to accommodate their
religious beliefs in scheduling their days of rest.
are made today to repair the Virginia law, this disparate treatment of
religious employees based on status or belief should not be continued.
At the same time, however, the legislature should be careful not to
make changes in the law that will take away what protection of
religious free exercise is now afforded by the state law .
celebrate the 40th anniversary of the federal Civil Rights Act by
ensuring that all employees in Virginia have the same right to
reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs in the workplace .