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Which religious holidays do you have to recognize as a private employer? At the risk of sounding too much like a grinch, the simple answer is none.
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. So as a private employer, you can generally force your employees to come in early Christmas morning and stay late on New Year's Eve.
But just because you can do it doesn't mean that you should. In fact, if an employee requests time off for a religious holiday, you may be legally required to do so.
In general, there are no state or federal laws that list specific religious holidays that a private employer must recognize or provide time off for. In fact, if the government did mandate such religious holidays, it would likely violate the separation of church and state that our country cherishes so dearly.
However, many private employers voluntarily provide a list of holidays and vacation days for their employees. For example, just about every employer provides time off for Christmas. In addition, many employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements may also list holidays.
So while the law does not stipulate which religious holidays you must recognize, you may choose to give this time off anyway. But if you do provide time off for some religious holidays, you may find yourself in a position where you are legally required to provide time off for all similar religious holidays as well.
That's because there are laws prohibiting religious discrimination. It may be considered discriminatory to provide time off for Christian holidays if you don't also recognize religious holidays for your non-Christian workforce, such as Hannukah (which begins Saturday night).
Further, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers to "reasonably accomodate" 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.
Still, this does not mean that you have to give time off to every worker claiming a religion and wanting some time off work. The religion needs to be a bona fide religion and the holiday needs to be a bona fide holiday.
Religious discrimination and holiday time off can be a very tricky issue. If you have questions, you may want to consult an experienced employment attorney near you.
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