By Meghan Droste, May 15, 2019
When I think of a post office, there is one thing that definitely does not come to mind: a social gathering spot (unless you count standing in a long line because you waited far too long to mail a holiday package).
It turns out, however, that post offices use to be just that. Up until a combination of religious groups and the labor movement pushed to end Sunday mail delivery in the early 20th century, the post office was a Sunday gathering spot in many communities, acting as a substitute for the taverns that were closed. That all ended in 1921 when Congress declared that post offices would no longer be open for mail delivery on Sundays.
Other than helping out those of you who participate in trivia nights, why am I sharing this with you? Well, as you may have noticed, the U.S. Postal Service is back in the business of delivering packages on Sundays. USPS has a contract with Amazon to deliver our books, clothes, and whatever else we might order from the online retail giant seven days a week. This, of course, means someone has to work on Sundays to deliver all of things we order. That brings us to the Commission’s recent decision in Stanton S. v. U.S. Postal Serv., EEOC App. No. 0120172696 (Feb. 5, 2019), involving a request not to work on Sundays as an accommodation.
The complainant in Stanton S. worked as a PSE Sales and Services/Distribution Associate (PSE). The Agency required all PSEs to receive training and to make themselves available for Amazon-related deliveries. The complainant submitted a written request for an exemption from working on Sundays as a religious accommodation. He explained that his religious beliefs prevented him from working on his sabbath. The complainant’s supervisor informed him that the scheduling portion would not be an issue because another employee volunteered to work on Sundays. However, the complainant was required to receive the training on processing Amazon deliveries so that he could serve as a backup. The Agency then scheduled the complainant for training on a Sunday. The complainant did not attend the training. The Agency responded by scheduling the complainant for training on the following two Sundays. The complainant did not report on those days. The Agency then removed the complainant from his position, based on his failure to report on the three Sundays as well as on two days on which he used approved sick leave.
The complainant filed an EEO complaint regarding his removal and requested a Final Agency Decision. In the FAD, the Agency concluded that it accommodated the complainant because it did not schedule him to work on Sundays, and that the scheduled trainings were required because the complainant had to serve as a backup.
The Commission reversed the Agency’s decision and concluded that the Agency failed to accommodate the complainant. Requiring the complainant to be available as a backup on Sundays failed to accommodate his sincerely held religious beliefs. The Agency also failed to provide any indication that not scheduling the complainant as a backup was an undue hardship because there was no indication that other employees were not available. The Commission ordered the Agency to reinstate the complainant with back pay, along with other remedies including training.
The next time you receive a package delivery on a Sunday, think about how much fun we miss out on by not getting to hang out at the post office and play cards like people did in 19th Century. Droste@FELTG.com