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Are employers required to give employees time off for religious holidays?

According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans identify with an established religion. For many of these individuals, religious holidays involve special traditions and rituals that may require time away from work.

Small business owners may wonder whether they have a legal obligation to provide time off for their employees to observe religious holidays. Whether or not they do depends on various factors.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion. This landmark legislation established that U.S. employers must accommodate an employee’s religious practices unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the business.

Reasonable accommodations

Employers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate an employee’s religious observance. These efforts could include some of the following actions:

  • Granting time off
  • Allowing flexible scheduling
  • Encouraging shift-swapping with colleagues

Employers may also need to consider alternatives such as hiring temporary staff to cover for the absent employee during religious holidays.

Undue hardship

If accommodating an employee’s religious request would impose an undue hardship on a small business, the employer may be exempt from providing the time off. Undue hardship refers to actions that would cause significant difficulty or expense to the business. Factors such as the size of the company, the nature of the business and the availability of alternative staffing can all influence what the law considers an undue hardship.

One key to accommodating religious observances is communication between employers and employees. Employers should encourage employees to notify them as early as possible about their need for time off for their religious observances. In turn, employees should make a good-faith effort to work with their employers to find reasonable solutions.


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