Benefits & Perks

Pick & Choose Which Religious Holidays Your Company Should Have Off

What religious holidays should you give your employees? Read here to learn the laws and good policies around it.

Blog Author - Tracey Wallace
Tracey Wallace
Mar 23, 20153 minutes
Blog Author - Tracey Wallace
Tracey Wallace
5 postsAuthor's posts
Blog - Hero - Meetings

It’s officially a trend. The U.S. is quickly updating its vacation policies in relation to religious holidays. That said, which religious holidays should you give off for your employees, if any? We break down exactly what you need to know to make sure you are complying with the law and empathizing with your religious employees.

Religious Accommodation in the Workplace

Which religious holidays must your company give off? Interestingly, the answer is simple: none. No private U.S. company is required to give paid days off for religious reasons. That's right: you don't have to recognize Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, any of the feasts for Santeria, or any other holiday, according to the law. That isn’t to say, however, that you shouldn’t.

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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires companies to "reasonably accommodate" an employee's religious practices, unless doing so would impose an "undue hardship" on the employer. Many employers use "floating holidays" to allow employees time off for religious holidays that aren't on a company's official holiday schedule. Official holiday schedules are often voluntary holidays decided upon by company management. For example, most U.S. companies give their employees a holiday on Christmas.

Further, some companies opt for unlimited vacation policies, while others maintain a strict holiday allowance as determined by the number of hours you work. These decisions are completely up to each individual company.

Many companies also allow for religious holidays on an unpaid basis, especially for those holidays that fall outside of the company’s pre-determined voluntary holiday list. Beware: not allowing employees to take unpaid holidays for religious purposes can result in lawsuits, as evidenced with the most recent of these aimed at General Motors.

Creating A Religious Holiday Policy

You have lots of options when it comes to which holidays to give your employees. You are required to give none, though most companies do indeed offer a few. Even Walmart, for example, a company notorious for a lack of company-wide holidays, gives all of their employees the day off on Christmas.

We’ve rounded up a handy checklist to make sure you abide by the law and keep your employees happy (and business running!).

  • Play it safe and go with the majority: Are a majority of your workers of one religious orientation? Include that religion’s holidays as part of your voluntary holiday list, then allow for one or multiple floating holidays company-wide, in order to ensure that those who fall outside of the majority religion feel able to take their own religious days off as needed.

  • Do you employees need to work odd hours? Pay ‘em extra! Increase pay for odd working hours: Can your company not allow for employees to take off on particular religious holidays? In this case, follow the rule of thumb used by many hospitals –– at which nurses and doctors get paid additional hourly rates for working during religious holidays. This is a respectful move for companies that must work on an around-the-clock basis.

  • Be flexible, and most importantly, be fair: Are you sure an employee’s religious holiday request is bona fide? Do a quick Google search to ensure that every religious holiday request is for a legitimate religious holiday regularly celebrated by a religious group. Allow employees to use vacation days and floating holidays to address the desired days off. If all of those days have already been taken, allow employees to take an unpaid day off.

In all, businesses are allowed to deny religious holidays in the case that doing causes one or more of the following:

  • Loss of profits

  • Loss of efficiency

  • Injury to employee morale

  • Any other criteria relevant to the individual situation

We know that religious holidays can be a tricky company policy to set. If you're a Justworks customer and would like to bounce your holiday schedule off of an HR professional, don't hesitate to use our Concierge services. We're here to help you figure out what works for you, while also being a good HR practice. Of course, following the above policies should keep you within your legal boundaries while respecting your employees’ rights.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.
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Written By
Blog Author - Tracey Wallace
Tracey Wallace
Mar 23, 20153 minutes

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