One of the biggest aspects of my own core beliefs is that I have a profound respect for other people’s religions and faiths. I mean, as long as your personal faith and/or beliefs don’t bring harm to others or yourself, I’ve always lived by a standard of live and let live. Even if and when they conflict or contradict my own. It makes sense that not everyone sees things the same way, right? But how does one consolidate their beliefs, religious or otherwise, when they conflict with the requirements of the modern world?
The best example I can give, takes me all the way back to the early 2000’s. I was management, third in charge of a location, which for liability purposes I won’t name. But part of my responsibilities included the hiring and discipline of the staff. It was a trying position at times, and I didn’t always enjoy the conversations I had to have with employees, especially given the fact that some of those conversations were dictated by upper management and the owners.
One of the senior management attended a local church, where the youth congregation were invited to apply and based on that manager’s recommendation, most were hired and made up a significant portion of the part-time staff. And although I’m not a big fan of this type of nepotism, I’ll be the first to admit that the staff we hired were quite fantastic. Always on time, worked hard and seemed inclined to make a good name for themselves.
But one of my other responsibilities also included scheduling for a staff of almost a hundred. This task was often made all the more difficult by the fact that many of our part-time staff were involved in extracurriculars like sports, committees and hobbies. Trying to provide them with the three or four shifts a week they required while navigating those extracurriculars often proved challenging. Sometimes I found myself having to tell one of the part-timers that a big part of being a responsible person was deciding their priorities and choosing between work and outside activities.
For the most part, it was a smooth conversation, with both parties coming to some sort of consensus even when that consensus meant they’d be parting ways with the company. But one young lad made a point of providing an extremely tight availability and absolutely refused to work on Sundays. When I explained to him that as a high school student with limited availability, Saturdays and Sundays were integral to ensuring that he got his three shifts, it was an unhappy medium, because he demanded three shifts a week but refused to work on Sundays as it was “God’s day.”
As I was raised in a French Catholic family, I am very aware of the fact that scripture states that on the seventh day, God rested. That being said, the modern world makes very little convention for such observances, nor does the business world accommodate one’s belief that a part-time employee with a limited availability can be choosy about the days he works. And why would he? Buddhists have a number of “observed” dates throughout the year, but I’ve never refused to work on any of them.
This put everyone in an awkward position. Although it was just the beginning of the new millennium, this was my first taste of millennial entitlement as a leader of staff. It would go on to be a phenomenon that would become all too common in most workplaces. It was also a very fine line to walk. Disciplining or correcting someone on the basis of their religious beliefs is a dangerous thing, both inside and outside of the workplace. But despite having signed an employment agreement indicating that he’d work the hours that were given, the employee missed a couple of Sunday shifts in a row.
He was lucky in a way, because the first time he missed the shift he had called in the previous day to say he wouldn’t be coming in. I say that he was lucky because he got me on the phone. Any other manager likely would have told him to show up for work or he’d be fired. I, instead, asked him why he wasn’t coming in. I got the “God’s day” reasoning and told him that he had agreed to work any hours given to him and that church services were also held during evenings and many staff members adjusted to make it work. He made it clear he simply wouldn’t work on Sundays. Well. Fuck.
I’m a firm believer in picking my battles, so I simply documented the absence and reported it to the Store Manager and replaced his spot with someone who wanted a few more hours. The battle wasn’t worth the outcome for a 3-hour shift on a first occurrence. But the following week, he got scheduled a Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday shift as per the availability of being a part-time school student. This time, he chose to test his luck and simply didn’t show up for work on the Sunday at all. That’s when shit got real…
This time, he skipped out on a shift overseen by the Store Manager, who wasn’t having any of it. Our staffing levels were based on projected sales calculated from previous weeks and years, so if we had 5 staff persons scheduled to work, it was because we were expected to need those 5. The Store Manager contacted this employee, who responded with his usual rhetoric about it being a Sunday. The Store Manager advised he would take care of this one, personally. I was grateful for that.
So in all honesty, who’s the asshole here? Is it the employee for providing an availability and then reneging on it? Or is it the employer for failing to respect an organized religion’s day of observance? Is it considered a bit much for that day of observance to be every single week, or was this youth right in his thinking that no one should work on “God’s day?” While I’m here, I apologize if putting “God’s day” in quotation marks offends anyone, but I’m of the opinion that EVERY day is God’s day. But the very fact I the need to apologize for it is the very point behind this post.
There’s nothing wrong with having faith, so long as you’re faithful. So where does the concept of faith fit into the modern world, specifically the working world? There should be room to accommodate a balance of both, right? I’m using the platform of this story as a means of asking for your opinion. If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments. ☯