Monday, May 07, 2007


This is taken from the same vein as the the previous question. I take it to be a relatively uncontroversial view that if an employee has a religious reason for refusing to perform a given task that the employer can, if they see fit, terminate that person's employment. Most people seemed to feel that reasonable accommodation for religious exercise was a good thing, but that it could go too far, and that it should be left to individual employers/employees to work out the proper balance.

This leads to two questions:

1. Are there any reasonable accommodations that we should mandate? Should employees be protected from termination if their exercise of religion means they're taking off religious holidays (but are otherwise performing their tasks)? Or should the employer be allowed to fire them regardless of the form of religious exercise?

2. How do people feel about the government mandating that employees with certain (non-state) jobs restrict their free exercise of religion to perform the job? If the employer is fine employing pharmacists who don't prescribe Plan B, or doctors who don't provide abortions, or cabbies who won't pick up people with alcohol, would that be ok? Or do you think we should have laws that say cabbies must pick up all fares/doctors provide all services/pharmacists fill all prescriptions?

Personally, I'm inclined to say that when the state steps into these situations it's going too far; a law that forces people to choose between their jobs and their religion is extremely coercive and not at all in the spirit of First Amendment. When private employers do it... not nearly so offensive. That's just my take. I want to know what others think.

Oh yeah I wait tables too


Jacob said...

As for 1) I'm against legal protection of religious holidays. To give just one example, suppose there are two people at a firm who can perform a job. One has a religious holiday and requests time off, the other's mom just died and wants the day off too. Should the law favor one employee over the other?

Hospitals deal with this situation all the time, with nurses and doctors trading who gets which holiday off. Most reasonable people seem to be able to make this work. Why make a law about it?

2) I agree with you on the state/private distinction here. I'll just note one point of equivocation: cab driving licenses are notorious for being kept artificially scarce by cities, opening the door to institutional discrimination. This is probably not an issue worth legislating today, but there are times when it likely might have been. (Jim Crow, for example, though I claim no expertise in the transportation laws and practices of the time.)

Jeff said...

Even so, Jacob - it's kind of galling when everyone gets Christmas off and I have to blow a vacation day on Yom Kippur. I don't know what the law can do about it, but private employers ought to be fair and not force someone to use a vacation day to take off for a religious holiday. Or for a family emergency, for that matter. Either way, firing someone for taking a religious holiday when everyone gets the Christian holidays seems unfair, and that should probably be mandated. Legislating that it not require the use of a sick day or vacation day, though, is probably unfair to employers.

As for 2), these are the kinds of decisions independent institutional ethics boards are in place for. The employer may be okay with it, but the practice may be against the ethics of the profession. They should at least have the power to take away a certain certification for those who violate professional ethics (though whether that certification ought to be a requirement for practice is a separate argument altogether). When there's no ethics board (cabbies), government should stay completely away from mandating against someone practicing their religious beliefs and leave that in the hands of employers.

But what if the employee works for the government?

Luka said...

Where I work, we are expected to take vacation days for holidays, but a person can usually work a holiday if they want instead of taking it off. That way everyone takes holidays off that they need and none that they don't.

I think cabbies and pharmacists are different. A pharmacy should be required to dispense all drugs at all times they're open, and the employer should make sure they're staffed appropriatly. That seems pretty easy.

Cabbies should be required to take all fairs. The Koran only says that they shouldn't drink the alchohol.
If they don't want to drive someone with alchohol, then they should do something else. As for cashiers that won't check out pork: they should get gloves. Or they can work at a vegetarian/vegan store.

If we let them get away with this, soon you'll have picketers trying to get jobs at abortion clinics, then suing the clincs over not being able to work there because of their religion. That's an extreme, but its a logical extension of this.

Eric Michael Peterson said...

Way back a long time ago Matt put up a post regarding where to draw the line (this is in response to luca). I think the generality of what he was saying in said post was, does the specific job the person can not perform significantly limit the overall job performance? For example, if a cabby will not take people with alcohol does that limit his performance so significantly that he can not do his job at all? That I would argue falls on the side of close to full performance potential, and that person should be able to keep the job. Your example on the other hand, picketers taking jobs at PP, well that would be the far opposite end, can they perform the fundamental task for which they would be hired? The answer in this case is no, and for that reason they should not be allowed to take the job. I think there is a spectrum on this topic and at a certain point there is an acceptable line that can be drawn to say that someone can or can not perform the needed tasks of any given job.

I am just glad no one is putting out the argument that I have seen so many times in the past that says it’s ok for Christian doctors to not do abortions but it is not ok for Muslim cabbies to turn away passengers with alcohol... that is just hypocrisy in my opinion.