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How Do Employers Observe Non-Christian/Non-Government Holidays

Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day. Most companies, as well as all banks and government offices observe these holidays by closing down. However, there are other holidays that may be more important to some employees but are not observed: such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Ramadan.

How can an employee participate in a holiday the company does not officially observe?

Jewish man in prayerThis question falls under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, which is the same law that protects people in the workplace, such as requiring employers to make accommodations for people with disabilities, and to refrain from discriminatory hiring. This same statute also protects discrimination on the basis of religion. Therefore, an employee’s request to take religious holidays off would follow the same general rules as a disability request.

First, an employee must request religious accommodation. If an employee asks for time off during the day to pray, an employer would have to consider it and make a concession. Other concessions may have to do with appearance. For example, Orthodox Jews maintain long sideburns, called the payot, and long beards, and cannot be required to shave or cut their hair by an employer.

Second, if no official announcement is made about a “non-government holiday” that an employee wishes to celebrate or honor, the employee must make a request and then the employer must make a reasonable accommodation. Religious accommodation requests are similar to disability accommodation requests in that an employer must make a reasonable adjustment, such as allowing the time off, or allowing for breaks for time to pray.

The employer has a couple options as to how they can compensate for the time off. The employee can be required to work on a holiday that he or she does not celebrate. Otherwise, if an employee has accrued paid time off (PTO), the employer can require he or she use that PTO for the holiday. Also, an employer cannot fire or retaliate against an employee for taking that time off.

However, just like the question of disability accommodation, if the religious holidays conflict with why an employer hired a person, the employer does not have to accommodate. An example would be hiring an employee to work only on the weekends, but the employee observes the Jewish sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Another example would be hiring an employee during the holiday season to help alleviate workload, but the employee asks for the entirety of Hanukah off.

In those cases, the employer does not have to grant the employee’s request, because accommodating it will mean additional work and cost to the employer, such as hiring another worker to pick up that missed work.

If you have any questions about how you or your employer should accommodate non-government/non-Christian holidays, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

Photo credit: John St. John (Flickr, Creative Commons)