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Tell applicants upfront about schedule, seniority system

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in Human Resources

Does your organization operate on a 24/7 basis? If so, employees probably have to be ready and able to work any shift at any time. If you also have a system that gives the most senior employees their picks of the best days off, it’s fair to both job applicants and the organization to be clear about what hours new hires should expect to work.

The best approach is to ask about work availability upfront—right on the application. But 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, who is a Seventh-day Adventist, applied for a job as a detention officer at the Wichita County Sheriff’s Office. The application explained that employees had to be available any day of the week and any shift.

After the office hired Leonce, he asked for Saturdays off as a religious accommodation. He was informed that there was a seniority system in place that 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 failure to accommodate.

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 preexisted and was used regularly. Overriding seniority would have been an undue burden on the sheriff’s office and wasn’t reasonable. (Leonce v. Callahan, et al., No. 7:03-CV-110, ND TX, 2008)

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