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Measure Requiring Time to Observe Sabbath Passed

Times Staff Writer

A bill that would require that employees be given time off to observe the Sabbath and other holy days unless doing so would mean an undue hardship for employers was approved by the Assembly on Tuesday and sent to Gov. George Deukmejian.

The bill should dispel some of the confusion and reaffirm the rights of Jews, Seventh-day Adventists and members of other faiths who do not work on the Sabbath or other holy days, said its sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica).

Hayden’s bill, introduced at the request of Agudath Israel of California, a coalition of Orthodox Jewish organizations, has sailed through the Legislature without controversy.

Its supporters say the measure is especially needed at this time because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that they say has been widely misinterpreted to mean that employers no longer had to make allowances for workers’ religious practices. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a Connecticut law was unconstitutional because it gave Sabbath observers an “absolute and unqualified right” to not work on the Sabbath.

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Hayden said his bill would pass the constitutional test because it is not as rigid as the scuttled Connecticut law. The Hayden bill would require employers to use reasonable means to try to work out an accommodation. The employer does not have to make allowances if giving an employee time off for religious observances represents an undue hardship.

Hayden said his bill does not define “undue hardship” because the circumstances vary with each case and because interpretation is best left to the employer or, if necessary, the courts.

Currently, the only such protection for California workers is contained in state regulations enforced by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Hayden and the bill’s proponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Church State Council of Seventh-day Adventists, say the legislation would clarify the state’s policy on the issue and provide added clout for enforcement.

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Agudath Israel and the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith in Los Angeles together receive dozens of calls a year about religious conflicts in the workplace. The state’s Seventh-day Adventist headquarters in California also handles a call every few days from someone having problems with an employer, said Claude Morgan, an attorney and vice president for the Church State Council.

Hayden’s bill, if signed by the governor, would incorporate into the statutes suggestions on how an employer could accommodate workers. These guidelines would include allowing a worker to perform duties at other times or to find a stand-in.


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