In the last few weeks, there have been several religious holidays including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha. These holidays may have caused employees to request time off from work. Employers are often confused about just how far they must go to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. Does a religious accommodation mean that time must be given off with pay?
Generally, the answer to that question is no. Although an employer may have to grant a reasonable accommodation of time off to observe a religious holiday, that time off can be without pay. Of course, employers should be consistent with their policies with regard to paid time off. If some employees are permitted to use vacation or other PTO time for absences due to a religious holiday, then all employees who are absent from work due to religious reasons should be similarly permitted to use paid time off.
What if an employer is closed for Christmas and pays employees for that day off, does that mean that other non-Christian holidays must be paid lest an employer face a religious discrimination claim? Again, the answer to that question is no.
Employers are permitted to choose which holidays the workplace will be closed and on which employees will be paid holiday pay. In such a case, there is no discrimination against other religions simply because other religious holidays are not paid. This is because an employee who chooses to be off work on any day where the office is not closed is faced with two possibilities — take unpaid time or use vacation or other paid time off. This is true regardless of whether the employee is off to attend a child’s high school graduation or due to a religious observance.