Lynne Curry: Never on Sunday

Lynne Curry

Q: I’ve worked for a retail chain for seven years, since high school. During my first six years, I worked part-time and went to college, taking mostly night classes. During that time, I received excellent performance reviews and many employee of the month awards. After I received my BA in business management, my company accepted me into its management trainee program.

Because I was in a support role and our general manager supervisor understood my commitment as a Christian who believes Sunday needs to be set aside for church and individual worship, I never worked Sundays. He didn’t consider it a problem as I willingly worked 60-hour workweeks and met all expectations and other trainees willingly worked Sundays. 

I met my fiancé online and recently relocated to Anchorage to see what happens. Since our chain has outlets in Anchorage, I wasn’t worried about employment. My company offered me a job as a front-line supervisor and I accepted. 

For the first month, things went well, though I realized my immediate manager found my “any hours but Sunday hours” disturbing. Last week we had a very difficult meeting in which he told me he’d checked with our corporate HR officer and I needed to show more flexibility or take a demotion to clerk status. He told me to think things over and give him an answer in the morning.

I don’t want to leave Anchorage or throw away my seven years with this company. I came in and talked with him this morning. After we talked he said he’d OK my being off-schedule three hours every Sunday morning so I could attend services, but it would cause morale problems for me to have Sundays off as everyone wanted Sundays off. He also said managers had to be able to handle problems every day of the week and if I wanted a future in retail management I needed to realize every major retail organization was open 24/7.

I’m not sure what to do. My fiancé is afraid I’m going to return to Chicago.

A: Employers need to accommodate an employee’s genuine religious needs if they can do so without undue hardship. Your employer offered you two accommodations -- three hours off Sunday morning or a lesser position. Do those work for you? If so, accept your manager’s offer.

If not, press forward on your case for Sundays off by asking your manager to hold off on a final decision until your corporate human resources manager reviews Baker v. The Home Depot. 

After a previous Home Depot manager had scheduled Baker off on Sundays for a year, a new Home Depot manager insisted Baker be “fully flexible” and work Sundays. Baker protested. Although the manager offered Baker a part-time position, Baker needed full-time work. 

Like your manager, Baker’s manager offered him Sunday mornings off if he’d work Sunday afternoons and evenings. Although Baker declined, his manager scheduled him for the following Sunday and fired him when Baker didn’t show up at work. 

Baker sued. While the district court ruled Baker proved his case for religious accommodation, they also ruled that Home Depot’s offer adequately accommodated Baker’s needs. 

Baker took his case forward to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which governs trial courts in six East Coast states, and won. The court ruled in Baker’s favor, noting that Home Depot’s offer ignored Baker’s religious belief against any work on Sunday. 

Although we’re in the 9th and not the 2nd Circuit, the Home Depot case makes it clear that even retail stores may need to accommodate a manager’s or employee’s genuinely held religious beliefs.

If your manager doesn’t reconsider, moving on doesn’t mean throwing away seven years. You own your history of excellent performance. Use it to win a job with a company that can accommodate what you really want -- Sundays off. In fact, if your chain won’t accommodate your faith, you may want to change companies now or even move out of retail.