Sometimes, you come across old laws that are still on the books that make you go, "Hmmmm." With the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur coming up this weekend , Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 53-303e which purports to address religious discrimination and make it a crime, is one of those laws.
When I first came across it, I was surprised at the scope of this statute, particularly paragraph (b).
(a) No employer shall compel any employee engaged in any commercial occupation or in the work of any industrial process to work more than six days in any calendar week. An employee’s refusal to work more than six days in any calendar week shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal.
(b) No person who states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day. An employee’s refusal to work on his Sabbath shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal.
Pretty broad, right? In fact, while employment lawyers are aware of the protections against religious discrimination in Title VII and the Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act, this statute appears to go much further for employers in Connecticut.
Looking for more clues, I found this statute listed not under the general employment laws, but listed in the "Crimes against Public Policy" section. Strange stuff, indeed.
But first appearances aren’t everything. It turns out that the most far-reaching of the sections, sec. 53-303e(b) — which appears to ban employers from requiring employees to work on their designated Sabbath — was ruled unconstitutional over 20 years ago by, of all courts, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Estate of Thorton v. Caldors, 472 U.S. 703. In that case, the court held that this statute, by providing Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their chosen Sabbath, violates the Establishment Clause.
So a few questions arise:
- Why is a law — that was ruled unconstitutional over 20 years ago — still on the books?
- Why is it still listed on the Department of Labor’s website as a statute that employers (and employees) need to be aware of, if its been overruled?
Certainly there are employers who will rely on the Connecticut DOL website for information who may unaware that portions of this statute have been overruled. Thus, its a case of "reader beware."
Notably, for Connecticut employers, the remaining sections have not been overruled and will bear some discussion in a future post. The ban on working seven days in a row for certain employees is one law that some employers appear to overlook.
But this law demonstrates that there’s always something to learn about the laws that are still on the books.
Anyone else aware of lurking employment laws still on the books but not enforced or understood?