It seems like there’s always something to celebrate. National Taco Day, No Socks Day, or my favorite – Eat What You Want Day.

Unfortunately, treating these silly holidays as grounds for giving your employees paid time off would break the bank really quickly. And well, they’re not government mandated. 

Religious holidays, however, do need some more examining. Small business owners and HR managers should review policies surrounding time off for religious holidays because refusing to accommodate could put your business at risk for a discrimination lawsuit.

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FLSA implications.

There is no federal law that requires an employer to compensate employees for time taken off to observe a religious holiday, practice, or belief.

However, requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must be followed. According to ThinkHR, under the FLSA, an employer is not required to pay nonexempt employees for time off on a holiday, but must pay only for time actually worked. Exempt employees who are given the day off are required to be paid their full weekly salary if they work any hours during the week the holiday falls.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act considerations. 

Another regulation to consider is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Under this rule, employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden to the operations of the business. This means employers may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his religion.

Examples of accommodating an employee’s religious beliefs:

  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Voluntary Shift Switches
  • Job Reassignments
  • Modifications to workplace policies or practices

Multiple Requests Off for the Same Religious Holiday

According to SHRM, an employer should accommodate these requests in a consistent and nondiscriminatory manner. If you have a system of seniority or other neutral system in place for determining which employees are first accommodated, use that system.

You could also consider splitting up the day so that some employees have the morning off and others have the afternoon. Employees’ willingness to work together to accommodate religious observance needs, such as shift switching, should also be recognized.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered religion under Title VII?

Title VII defines religion broadly and protects all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief. Under Title VII, religion includes traditional and organized religions like: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It also includes beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.

More details here.

Are there exceptions to who is covered by Title VII’s religion provisions?

Yes – There’s the religious organization exception and the ministerial exception. Details on those can be found here.

When is an employer liable for religious harassment?

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer is always liable for a supervisor’s harassment if it results in a tangible employment action. However, employers may be able to avoid liability or limit damages if they prove certain things. More details here.

For these questions and many more, you’ll want to check out this FAQ from the EEOC.

Religion can prove to be a tricky subject in the workplace. It’s best to consult your own legal advisor when determining policies such as this.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in Oct. 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. 

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not all inclusive. Our guidance is designed only to give general information on the issues actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all laws which may be applicable to your situation, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice, or render a legal opinion. Consult your own legal advisor regarding specific application of the information to your own plan.