Is your employer required to give you religious holidays off?

On Behalf of | Oct 15, 2021 | Employment law

Employees in Pennsylvania workplaces represent a diversity of religious faiths. Many have sacred holidays that aren’t included in most businesses’ holiday schedules — unlike Christmas.

So if you need to take a day off to attend a religious service or simply spend time with family, is your employer obligated to let you have the day off? Generally, they are – but there are some caveats.

Federal law requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations”

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations, any company with at least 15 employees is required to make “reasonable accommodations” for religious observances. What does that mean?

According to the 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.”

Note that employers don’t have to provide a paid day off for a religious holiday. However, many employers will allow employees a specified number of “personal” paid days off in addition to their vacation days. Often, employees will use these days for their religious holidays, but there’s no obligation to explain what they’ll be doing during their time off.

How you can avoid causing an “undue hardship”

Don’t assume that your employer knows when various faiths’ religious holidays are. The sooner you make an official request, either through your company’s online scheduling system or in writing – not just verbally – the better prepared your employer will be to make reasonable accommodations, like making sure that your shift is covered or that another manager is scheduled to be on duty. 

Further, if there are multiple employees at your workplace who celebrate the same holiday — say Greek Orthodox Christmas, which falls in early January — the less likely you are to be the one turned down because your boss simply can’t have so many people out on one day.

As the end of the year nears, employees will be asked to select their vacation days and other days off for next year. If you believe that your employer is unreasonably denying your requests to take a religious holiday off, it’s wise to learn more about your rights under the law.