Since the initial post, the CTDOL website has been updated to reflect a change in the law. The post has been updated to reflect these changes. 

With all the talk about religious “freedom” this week in the news and the holidays upon us this weekend, I wish I had something more profound to write about them.

But I look back on my prior posts — like this one from Passover and Easter in 2011 — and I sigh that we seem to be talking about the same issues over and over again.

  • What is an employer’s duty to accommodate in the workplace?
  • What are the rules for providing employees days off?
  • And can an employer set dress codes without facing a lawsuit?

But if you’re not careful, you’ll still think we have laws on the books that are outright illegal and have been ruled as much by the courts.

For example, Conn. Gen. Stat. 53-302a is a remnant from our blue laws and states with a few exceptions that: “No person, firm or corporation shall engage in work, labor or business, or employ others in work, labor or business on Sunday.”

That law was ruled unconstitutional in the Caldor’s (remember them?) v. Bedding Barn case nearly 36 years ago to the day. But still the law persists.

Until recently, look at Conn. Gen. Stat. 53-303e which until 2013 stated:

(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? And yet, as I pointed out back in 2007 (!), paragraph (b) of the statue was ruled unconstitutional as well in 1985 in the U.S. Supreme Court in Estate of Thornton v. Caldor’s. 

The Connecticut statute challenged here guarantees every employee, who “states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath,” the right not to work on his chosen day. Conn.Gen.Stat. § 53-303e(b) (1985). The State has thus decreed that those who observe a Sabbath any day of the week as a matter of religious conviction must be relieved of the duty to work on that day, no matter what burden or inconvenience this imposes on the employer or fellow workers. The statute arms Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on whatever day they designate as their Sabbath.

In essence, the Connecticut statute imposes on employers and employees an absolute duty to conform their business practices to the particular religious practices of the employee by enforcing observance of the Sabbath the employee unilaterally designates. The State thus commands that Sabbath religious concerns automatically control over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute takes no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who do not observe a Sabbath. The employer and others must adjust their affairs to the command of the State whenever the statute is invoked by an employee….

This unyielding weighting in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests contravenes a fundamental principle of the Religion Clauses, so well articulated by Judge Learned Hand: “The First Amendment . . . gives no one the right to insist that, in pursuit of their own interests, others must conform their conduct to his own religious necessities.”

Thankfully,  the Connecticut Department of Labor website has now been updated to reflect these changes.

Happy Passover and Easter to all who celebrate!