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The Jewish Ethicist: Religious Disclosure

The Jewish Ethicist: Religious Disclosure

Does one have to tell a prospective employer that he keeps Shabbat? Is it permissible for a man to remove his kippah?

by

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project with the JCT Center for Business Ethics.

Q. Do I have to tell a prospective employer that I keep Shabbat? I'm applying for a job in a lab, where it is frequently necessary to work weekends, but through careful planning I generally make sure that my Shabbat observance is not a burden on my co-workers. I want to be open about my religious observance, but there are not really a lot of good jobs in my field. Is it permissible for a man to remove his head covering?

A. This is the famous "kippah question": Should I go to the interview with a kippah? Jewish campus life always buzzes with inside information as to which employers supposedly discriminate against kippah or head-scarf wearers, and which don't mind.

The basic rule is that potentially negative information should be actively revealed to the prospective employer if it seriously affects your ability to do the job. But there are very few jobs which are so negatively affected by Shabbat observance; even workplaces which run around the clock generally work in shifts which provide adequate flexibility. So if you suspect that the employer may be unfairly biased against Shabbat observers, you may carefully avoid revealing that you keep Shabbat.

What is unfair bias? American law requires employers "to reasonably accommodate the religious belief of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship."

In your field it is "frequently necessary to work weekends"; does that mean that accommodating you is an "undue hardship"? There's no simple answer. It is understandable that co-workers feel resentment when a Shabbat-observant worker disappears on Friday afternoon while they are still hard at work to meet a Monday deadline; yet often the resentment is not because you're not pulling your weight, but merely because you're not showing "solidarity."

Before you are hired, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Unless you have a firm basis for believing that your Shabbat observance will be a hardship for the employer, this is not the time for giving him an excuse to overlook your qualifications!

In North America, the interviewer may not ask about your religious observance. If he does, don't lie but politely explain that you prefer not to discuss religion on the job.

After you are hired but before you start work, be balanced. By now your employer is convinced of your capabilities; if you believe that he will be fair in accommodating you, this is the best time to be open. The employer will probably be reluctant to let you go unless he really does face an undue hardship. Just disappearing on Friday afternoon is not good manners.

If you are actually discontinued because you keep Shabbat, carefully evaluate the employer's point of view. It's best not to threaten a job-discrimination suit unless you actually intend to file one; court action should be used to protect your rights, not as a cudgel to frighten your employer into keeping you on if you're not pulling your weight.

Beyond the ethical aspects of your question, it is worth asking where you will be most comfortable. If you feel that changing your distinctive head covering is like apologizing for your observance, maybe it is worth passing up some opportunities in order to feel true to your beliefs – especially if jobs in your field are not too scarce.

Send your queries about ethics in the workplace to jewishethicist@aish.com

The Jewish Ethicist presents some general principles of Jewish law. For specific questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of Aish.com and the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at www.besr.org.

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

Published: June 16, 2001


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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Natlaie Kehr, October 9, 2007 9:46 AM

Offer to always work on Sundays

Present being observant as an advantage to the employer. You will always be prepared to work on Sunday, and if the overtime rate on Sunday is greater than the Saturday rate, you will accept the Saturday rate. If you take Friday afternoon off work, your Sunday working should be at normal rates, not overtime rates. That is what I would consider honest

(7) Leonard, August 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Wear it!!

From experience, you'll find it prevents future problems to wear the kippah and be up-front. Initial openness about what you stand for (kippa, tzitzit, Shomer shabbat and all), make it easier for employers to accomodate your needs, and make for a more pleasant work environment. By contrast, you don't want to end up working at a place where these will become obstacles. If these items were obstacles during a job interview, they'd become even more of a problem if you hid them and landed the job. You'd still have to deal with the problem one day. Better upfront than later.

(6) Anonymous, June 21, 2001 12:00 AM

don't really talk about second part, wearing kippah

(5) Ellen Rosen, June 18, 2001 12:00 AM

Employers appreciate full disclosure

I completely appreciate the dilemma outlined in the essay. However as an employer, imagine how deceived I would feel if one week after hiring someone, they casually mentioned, "oh by the way, I won't be able to accommodate you for any Saturday overtime." I would feel resentful and manipulated. I'd much rather be told during an interview that one has an ill mother that occasionally needs attention, or they themselves have some special issues or they are an observant Jew or Catholic who will need time off for this or that. As a small company always looking for highly skilled people in our industry, people with special needs can easily be accommodated. What is hard to get past - as an employer - is the legacy of distrust such initial deception leaves. After, I'll always be wondering what new surprise is waiting for me next week. My opinion is that people will feel better about themselves with honest disclosure and the employer will feel grateful for not being deceived. The new job and fresh start will truly be new and fresh. Leave the adversarial relationships to the lawyers ...

(4) , June 18, 2001 12:00 AM

The article was very insightful, and it could've applied to me when I applied for my first job.
I do, however, think that it is only fair to inform a potential employer about Sabbath observance at the interview. Sometimes, especially if the job requires weekend work, accommodations have to be made before you actually start working, which is what happened in my case.
As for head coverings, I have heard that if a man wears a yarmulke that is too large and too obvious, it won't look professional and he may not get the job. I don't believe that for a minute, because I know people who wear head and hair coverings to their interviews and to the jobs they get from those interviews. I also know someone who works in a not-so-safe area with not-so-safe people. While he's not in any real danger, I'm sure that there are rabbis who would tell him to wear a less obvious head covering for his own safety, but he wears a yarmulke, and he stands out as the Orthodox Jew among his colleagues. To me, it's a Kiddush Hashem.

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