Employers who discriminate against their employees on the basis of religious beliefs may have to face serious legal consequences. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as many state constitutions, it is illegal for employers to take discriminatory actions towards their employees because of their religion.

Additionally, both federal and state laws require employers to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or to allow them to observe their religious practices. However, it is only necessary that the employer makes reasonable accommodations for an employee. If a certain accommodation poses an undue hardship on a business, then the employer will most likely not have to make any adjustments.

The most commonly requested accommodation is that an employer grant an employee time off from work, so that they can observe a significant religious holiday or attend religious services. It should be noted that employees may or may not be paid for taking time off from work in order to observe a religious holiday. The results will vary depending on the circumstances.

There are also some situations where an employer can refuse an employee’s request for time off for religious purposes. This will be discussed in further detail below.

Can an Employee be Paid for Taking Time Off to Observe Religious Holidays?

Although it is not mandated by law that an employer pays an employee for the time off they take to observe a religious holiday, many companies will allow their employees to be paid for specific holidays. Generally speaking, an employee will usually receive a list of paid holidays either when they are hired or if they request one.

For instance, many businesses permit Jewish employees to take paid time off to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and to observe Yom Kippur.

On the other hand, if a company does not offer their employees paid time off for religious holidays, then an employee may potentially have the option of observing such holidays without a loss of pay. They can do this by attempting to reach a reasonable agreement with their employer.

Some other examples of work arrangements that have been deemed to be reasonable include:

  • Letting an employee use a floating holiday, personal day, or vacation day to take time off to celebrate the religious holiday;
  • Transferring an employee to a different position that has more flexible hours to accommodate their religious beliefs, even if the position is one of a lower rank;
  • Permitting an employee to either work late or come in early on other days in order to make up the time they took off; and/or
  • Modifying the employee’s weekly work schedule (e.g., having them work new hours, picking up an extra shift, or swapping shifts with another co-worker).

In the alternative, an employee could also take a non-paid day off to observe the religious holiday. To avoid this scenario, it may be best to speak with an employer before offering to take off for free due to religious obligations. While there is no guarantee that an employer will say yes to any of the above suggestions, it is worth bringing it up with them first to check.

Can an Employer Refuse an Employee’s Request to Observe a Religious Holiday?

In order to legally refuse a worker’s request to observe a religious holiday, the employer must show that they cannot reasonably accommodate the employee without causing undue hardship to the business. Proving undue hardship requires that an employer demonstrate that the employee’s request would impose more than a minimal burden on operation of the business.

An employer may be able to prove that an employee’s request would impose an undue hardship if any of the following factors are present:

  • Their request is expensive;
  • If a request threatens the safety or security of a work environment;
  • If it would decrease workplace efficiency;
  • When the request violates the rights of other employees; and/or
  • If it places a greater burden on the other employees (e.g., causing stressful work days for their co-workers during busy seasons when all staff is necessary).

The above list is not exhaustive of the types of requests that may qualify as posing an undue hardship on a company. Thus, in many situations, there may be other relevant criteria that both the employer and the requesting employee may have to consider and discuss as well.

Should I Seek Legal Help for Issues Involving Employment and Religious Holidays?

If you believe that you are entitled to receive time off for a religious holiday and your employer has refused to grant your request, then you should consider contacting a local employment lawyer for further legal guidance.

An experienced employment lawyer will be able to research the relevant laws in your area, can determine if you have a case, and can help you assess your legal options. Your attorney can also provide representation in court or during settlement negotiations with your employer if necessary.