Religious discrimination by employers can have legal consequences. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and many state constitutions require employers to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. Generally, an employer is required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee to observe their religious practices.

The most common accommodation is granting an employee time off to observe a religious holiday. Depending on the situation, employees may or may not be paid for taking time off from work to observe a religious holiday. There are also some situations where an employer can refuse an employee’s request for time off.

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

While it is not mandatory for employers to pay their employees for time off taken to observe religious holidays, many companies will allow employees to be paid for certain holidays. An employee will generally receive a list of these holidays when hired or upon request. For example, many facilities allow Jewish employees paid time off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If a company does not allow for their employees to be paid for religious holidays, it may be possible to observe these holidays without loss of pay by reaching a reasonable agreement with their employer. Examples of arrangements that have been found reasonable include:

  • Allowing an employee to use a floating holiday, personal day or vacation day to take time off for celebration of a religious holiday;
  • Transferring an employee to a different position that has hours more accommodating to his religious beliefs, even if that position is of lower rank;
  • Allowing an employee to work late on or come in early on other days in order to make up time; and/or
  • Changing the employee’s weekly schedule (working different hours, picking up a shift or switching shifts with another employee).

In the alternative, the employee could take a non-paid day off to observe the religious holiday.

Can Employers Refuse an Employee's Request to Observe a Religious Holiday?

In order to legally refuse an employee's request, an employer must show that they could not reasonably accommodate the employee without causing “undue hardship” to the business. Proving undue hardship requires an employer to show that the request would impose more than a minimal burden on operation of the business. This can be found if the request:

  • Is costly;
  • Threatens workplace safety;
  • Decreases efficiency;
  • Violates the rights of other employees; and/or
  • Places a greater burden on other employees.

Any other criteria relevant to the individual situation may be considered as well.

Should I Seek Legal Help?

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 consult an employment lawyer experienced in employment discrimination law. Your attorney will be able to determine if you have a case and help you develop a plan of action. Your employment attorney can also explain the complex legal terms in a way that is easier to understand.