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Religious Discrimination: What Holidays Can I Take off Work?

The holiday season is a time of celebration for many. However, what amount of that religious celebration qualifies as time away from work is determined by your employer and governed by law. Learn what the law requires of your company and what you need to do to guarantee it happens.

What does the law require?

According to the EEOC: “Unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer’s operation of its business, an employer must reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices. This applies not only to schedule changes or leave for religious observances, but also to such things as dress or grooming practices that an employee has for religious reasons.”

The terms “undue hardship” and “reasonably accommodate” must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Generally, undue hardship occurs when the accommodation:

  • is costly,

  • compromises workplace safety,

  • decreases workplace efficiency,

  • infringes on the rights of other employees, or

  • requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work.

Examples of reasonable accommodations a company can offer include:

  • flexible scheduling
  • voluntary shift substitutions or swaps
  • job reassignments
  • modifications to workplace policies or practices

It is important to note that religious discrimination laws protect against not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

To further clarify, the EEOC states: “Religious beliefs include theistic beliefs (i.e. those that include a belief in God) as well as non-theistic “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” Although courts generally resolve doubts about particular beliefs in favor of finding that they are religious, beliefs are not protected merely because they are strongly held. Rather, religion typically concerns “ultimate ideas” about “life, purpose, and death.” Social, political, or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not “religious” beliefs protected by Title VII.”

What should employees do to get time off work for religious observations?

  • Submit a written request for an adjusted work schedule in advance.

  • Be sure to specifically state that the request is for religious purposes and provide acceptable documentation of the need to abstain from work.

  • The hours you will work to make up the time should be scheduled simultaneously with the approval of your request for time off. This provides your employee with a clear record of your adjusted work schedule.

  • Employees are not eligible for overtime pay if they voluntarily work in excess of 40 hours per week or 8 hours per day for the purpose of making up time due to religious observance.


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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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