Can a Job Deny You Time Off for Religious Reasons?

Can a Job Deny You Time Off for Religious Reasons?

Your life outside work is just as important (if not moreso) than your work life is, and you have commitments that you have to uphold. In fact, if you’re like many people, your religion requires you to observe special – or even holy – days. But can your job deny you time off for religious reasons? This guide explains this often-confusing subject.

Can a Job Deny You Time Off for Religious Reasons?

Employers are required by law to try to accommodate your religious beliefs. For example, if you’re hired at a company and you tell your employer that you can’t work from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday for religious reasons, your employer has to do what it can to keep you off the schedule on those days.

But let’s be clear: Your employer doesn’t have to bend over backward to accommodate you. For example, a restaurant isn’t required to close down on Friday evening because you can’t come to work. Employers are only legally required to accommodate you if doing so wouldn’t cause an undue hardship.

Related: Religious discrimination in the workplace

What the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Says About Religious Accommodations

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, cites Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it comes to religious discrimination. Failing to even try to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs, such as denying someone time off for religious reasons without making an attempt to reschedule a shift, may be a violation of that act.

But is your religion covered?


Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief – and it does so by defining religion very broadly. Certainly traditional and organized religions count, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Additionally, Title VII protects people with new, uncommon or even individualized religions. Whether or not you’re involved with a religious group, your religion counts.

Related: Religious discrimination laws that U.S. workers need to know

The EEOC says that religious beliefs include both theistic beliefs (those that involve a belief in a god or gods) and non-theistic “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”

It is important to note, though that social, political or economic philosophies and personal preferences are not considered religious beliefs for the purposes outlined in Title VII.

What Are Employers’ Rules for Giving People Time Off for Religious Holidays and Holy Days?

There isn’t a specific law that requires employers to give you time off for a religious holiday or a holy day. However, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says that employers can’t treat employees differently because of their religious affiliation, and that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who wish to participate in religious observances.

If the employer can show that accommodating a person would cause an undue hardship on the employer, it’s not required to make an accommodation. Generally, at least for purposes of Title VII, an accommodation might cause undue hardship if:

  • It’s expensive
  • It would infringe on the rights of other employees
  • It would compromise workplace safety
  • It would decrease workplace efficiency
  • It requires other employees to do more than their share of “hazardous or burdensome” work

For example, if you request a day off for a religious holy day in advance, your employer may have time to find someone else to work your shift. However, regardless of when you request the time off, your employer is not required to accommodate you if you’re the only person who can perform a specific job and it’s absolutely essential that you’re there to perform your job that day, or else the employer would lose a significant amount of money or suffer other significantly negative consequences.

Related: Religious discrimination facts you may not know

Does Your Employer Have to Pay You for Time Off for a Religious Holiday?

Your employer does not necessarily have to pay you if it gives you time off for a religious holiday or holy day. The Fair Labor Standards Act only requires your employer to pay you for time you actually worked if you’re an hourly employee. If you’re an exempt employee, your employer must pay you your salary for that week if you worked any hours during the week of the holiday or holy day. You can, however, use accrued vacation time or other paid time off for your absence.

Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About a Job Denying You Time Off for Religious Reasons?

If you believe your employer failed to make reasonable accommodations for you and denied you time off for religious reasons, we may be able to help you. Call our office at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to schedule your free consultation with an experienced religious discrimination attorney now.

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