VA Companies Panic Over "Sabbath" Day Off Law

July 1, 2004 ( - Many Virginia employers are scrambling to figure out how to comply with a new state statute requiring companies to give employees Saturdays or Sundays off if they request it.

In many cases, faced with having to staff weekend and round-the-clock shifts, employers who violate the law are looking at p enalties including a fine of up to $500 for each offense and paying the employees triple their regular pay, the Associated Press reported.

So as of Thursday, the start of the state’s fiscal year, all non-management employees can choose Sunday or Saturday as their rest day if that is their day of Sabbath. A worker who conscientiously believes that Saturday should be observed as the Sabbath must provide written notice to the employer. The law also mandates employees get 24 consecutive hours off each calendar week.

Democratic Governor Mark Warner, who signed the bill into law, said he would support legislation in the January session that would fix the bill retroactively. But Tim Murtaugh, spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, said that solution won’t work either because the attorney general would essentially be asked not to enforce a law.

Not surprisingly, Laurie Peterson, president of the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, said some merchants are panicking. “This could be seriously harmful,” Peterson said. “We’re looking forward and seeing the ramifications this could have on the Christmas season.”

Richmond attorney Gregory Robertson said he is advising his corporate clients to prepare to honor all written requests from employees who want off Sunday or Saturday as a rest day.

“I’d say, based on the way the statute is written, either the statute is changed or the exemptions are reinstated – or it seems that employers will be in a fairly significant dilemma,” said Robertson, In a recent report, Robertson and another attorney said an increasing number of employees will probably take advantage of the law once the legislature’s error becomes widely known.

Starting the whole mess was a move by state Senator Frederick Quayle to repeal the archaic laws banning Sunday work. His measure did that, but it also got rid of a long list of business exemptions attached to the old statute. That list was the same one attached to another obsolete statute, the “day-of-rest” law, which is still on the books. “It did blindside everyone,” explained Hugh Keogh, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.