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Must employers allow employees to have religious holidays off?

Employers with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ religious observances, according the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, if covered employers can reasonably accommodate the employee’s request, they must. Some state anti-discrimination laws may cover even smaller employers.

Religious accommodations often present themselves in the form of a request for time off for religious observances that do not conform to the employer’s holiday schedule. If allowing the employee to have the religious holiday off would cause an undue hardship for the company, the accommodation is not required. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), "An accommodation may cause undue hardship if it 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."

Because employers may often have multiple requests off for the same religious holiday, an employer should accommodate such requests in a consistent and nondiscriminatory fashion. If a system of seniority or other neutral system exists for determining which employees are first accommodated, organizations should employ that system. Organizations should also consider splitting the day, so some employees can have the morning off and others the afternoon. In most cases, employers should accommodate employees’ willingness to work together to accommodate religious observance needs (i.e., voluntary shift switching). 

For all, employees should be able to use applicable paid time-off benefits consistent with organizational policies to observe religious holidays. If an employee has exhausted all paid time-off benefits, he or she may still be accommodated with unpaid time off to observe a religious holiday. If the employer allows flexible work schedules or make-up time, employees requesting time off to observe a religious holiday should be afforded these same options. 


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