Can Employees Take Time Off for Religious Holidays?

Feb 17 2023

Amanda DeMatteis: Hi, Josh!

Josh Goodbaum: Hi, Amanda! What are we talking about today?

DeMatteis: Well, we have a viewer question, which is pretty exciting. Employee wants a religious holiday off from work. Employer says no. What happens?

Goodbaum: It’s a good question and the answer is a little bit confusing, and part of that is because the law here is actually in flux. It might be shifting.

So, the first answer would be, well, if you’ve got any vacation time, can you use it? And if your employer is letting people use vacation time for all kinds of other things but not for a religious holiday, that might look like discrimination on the basis of religion, which is illegal under Connecticut and federal law.

Ok, but then I might ask a broader question, which is: ‘What if I don’t get any paid time off or what if my employer’s requiring me – as some employers do – to work every Saturday or every Sunday? I think that’s the Sabbath, and I’m commanded by my religion not to work those days.’ The answer is, right now, you don’t have a practical right to that religious accommodation, but soon you might.

Under Connecticut state law, there is no right to an accommodation on the basis of religion. So, if you have a disability, for example, you can go to your employer and say, ‘Hey, I need a reasonable accommodation.’ You can’t do that on the basis of your religion.

You can request a religious accommodation under federal law. That’s Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But in a case from 1977, called TWA v. Hardison, the U.S. Supreme Court said, ‘Well, employers are allowed out of that accommodation requirement if there’s an undue burden, and an undue burden exists basically if it would cost the employer any money at all to accommodate your religious beliefs.’

That Hardison decision has been really seriously criticized for the last 40 years or so, and actually, just these past few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided potentially to revisit that rule. There’s a case called Groff v. DeJoy about a postal worker who does not want to work on Sundays. The U.S. Supreme Court might reconsider the rule in TWA v. Hardison and might say that, if you have a sincere religious belief, your employer has to accommodate it under Title VII so long as it does not impose an undue hardship that looks a lot more like the analysis under disability law than it does under religion law now.

So I would say stay tuned, because if your situation is that your religion prohibits you from working on Saturdays or Sundays, the law is likely to shift in your favor come the summer of 2023, and we’ll be sure to tell you about that if and when it happens.

DeMatteis: Very interesting – long history and a lot of change potentially coming up. Thank you so much, Josh.

Goodbaum: Thank you!

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