Does your employer have to let you take a religious holiday off?

| Mar 23, 2021 | Employment law |

Americans celebrate a wide variety of religious holidays. Most employers, however, only recognize Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. Meanwhile, people who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Greek Orthodox and other faiths celebrate holidays that are just as important to them. 

Does your employer have to give you a religious holiday off if it’s not on the company calendar of holidays? 

What does your employer’s policy say?

A private employer doesn’t have to recognize any holidays celebrated by people of any faith — but there are few companies that do not at least recognize Christmas and a few other family holidays.

If an employer recognizes Christmas as a holiday they could find themselves in legal jeopardy for not allowing employees who aren’t Christian to take their most important holidays off, instead. For example, an employer could face discrimination for allowing a Christian to take off Christmas but not allowing a Jewish employee to take off Passover. 

What does the law say?

The law is on the side of the employee here. Both federal and North Carolina laws recognize religion as a protected employment class, which makes discrimination based on religion illegal. Further, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for an employee’s religion unless that accommodation would cause an “undue hardship” for the employer and other employees.

Many employers include in their list of recognized days off each year a “floating holiday” that employees can schedule as they choose. Often, employees are encouraged to use these for their religious holidays. Typically, it’s best to work with your employer when asking for a day off for religious observance. Give them plenty of notice. If there are multiple people in your workplace who will want the same day off, this is especially crucial. 

If this is becoming an issue that you can’t resolve with your employer – particularly if you believe that it’s part of a practice of religious discrimination in your workplace – it may be wise to talk with an attorney regarding your rights and your legal options.