Does your organization operate on shifts or have unusual work hours? If so, it’s fair to both job applicants and the organization to be ultra-clear about what hours new hires should expect to work.
The best approach is to ask about work availability up front—right on the application. Just make certain you don’t ask the question in a way that implies you won’t consider disabled applicants or those with family responsibilities. A simple question about availability is sufficient.
Recent case: John Leonce, a Seventh-day Adventist, applied for a job as a detention officer at the Wichita County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office. The application explained that employees had to be available to work any day of the week and any shift.
After being hired, Leonce asked for Saturdays off as a religious accommodation.
His boss told him that the seniority system dictated who got prime weekend days off, and new hires would have to work weekends. Thus, there was no guarantee that Leonce would have Saturdays off.
Citing Leonce’s at-will status, the sheriff’s office fired him. He sued, alleging a failure to accommodate his religious needs. The court said the seniority system trumped Leonce’s request for every Sabbath off. It didn’t matter that the system was unwritten—just that it in fact existed and was used regularly.
Overriding the seniority system, the court said, would have been an “undue hardship” on the sheriff’s office and wasn’t reasonable. (Leonce v. Callahan, et al., No. 7:03-CV-110, ND TX, 2008)
Final tip: In addition to explaining your work hours to applicants, discuss any seniority system that will affect their ability to get their preferred shifts.
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