Does My Boss Have to Accommodate My Religious Holidays?

Religion and Employee Rights – Time Off for Holidays


It seems like it should be easy to get time off for religious holidays. But some employees are hitting a wall when it comes to their requests – paid or not.

Imagine this: you ask your boss to give you the day (or weekend or week) off so you can celebrate the holidays. Your boss denies the request, and you are forced to work during a religious observance. For some denominations, this goes against genuine beliefs. It can cause a serious rift between employees and employers.

Now you’re left wondering if your boss has to accommodate your religious holidays.

The answer is, it depends.

Reasons for Refusal of Time Off

Employers of more than 15 workers must “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. This is defined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

However, if the time off would cause “undue hardship” on the employer’s business, then the employer can deny your request for time off. The justification can be that your absence from work would be exceptionally expensive for the company or that it would cause damage to your co-workers or their rights.

Employee Protection in California

The state of California’s discrimination laws say that religion is a protected class. The protections extend to companies with as few as five employees.

To qualify for religious protection, however, your beliefs have to be sincere. You can’t just create a religion or belief on your own and expect to receive time off for it. The best way to show your beliefs are sincere is to share them with your boss early on. That way, when you want to celebrate religious holidays, it won’t come as a surprise.

What to Do If Your Request is Denied

When you submit your request for time off and are denied, it may help to first speak with someone who is higher up in the company. The human resources department can also be a valuable resource in helping you attempt to get the time off you need while maintaining a good relationship with your co-workers and superiors.

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