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Employers must accommodate religious observance requests

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During this holiday season, your company may get requests from employees for time off that are not traditionally designated as a holiday by most companies. How should those requests be handled, and how do you accommodate these requests due to a religious observance?

In most cases, you would need to seriously consider an employee’s time off request when it is for a religious holiday. Under Title VII’s protection of an employee’s religion, employers are obligated to provide religious accommodations similar to the American’s with Disabilities Act reasonable accommodation requests. Religious accommodations often present themselves in the form of a request for time off for religious observances which do not conform to the employer’s holiday schedule. Unless this would be an undue hardship, an employer should accommodate such requests in a consistent and non-discriminatory fashion.

Employees should be able to use relevant paid time off benefits consistent with company policies to observe holidays. If an employee has exhausted all paid time off benefits, they should be given unpaid time off to observe a religious holiday. If the employer allows flexible work schedules or make-up time, employees requesting time off to observe a religious holiday should be afforded these same options.

If the accommodation would cause an undue hardship for your company, the accommodation does not have to be made. According to the EEOC, “an employer can show undue hardship if accommodating an employee’s religious practices requires more than ordinary administrative costs, diminishes efficiency in other jobs, infringes on other employees’ job rights or benefits, impairs workplace safety, causes co-workers to carry the accommodated employee’s share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work, or if the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation.”

If you cannot accommodate the request, the employee should be notified as soon as possible and you should provide the hardship rationale supporting the denial.

Employers unsure of whether an accommodation creates undue hardship sould contact BCN’s Human Resources Customer Service Center to discuss the situation before denying this request.

As always, if you have a situation that needs immediate attention, contact BCN’s Human Resources Customer Service Center ( or (800) 891-9911 ext. 4) and we will work diligently to help you with all your employee relations issues.

BCN wishes you a prosperous, happy and healthy holiday season!



Kate Douglass (200x174)

Kate Douglass, Senior, HR Generalist