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Do CA Employers Have to Give Time Off for Religious Holidays?

The short answer is probably. No California law requires private employers to provide employees paid or unpaid time off for secular or national holidays (although many do), but when it comes to religious holidays, there’s a different legal landscape.

In addition to prohibiting employment discrimination based on religion, both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 USC §§2000e—2000e–17) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) (Govt C §§12900–12996) require that covered employers provide accommodations to employees to the extent needed because of an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would constitute an undue hardship.

These legally required accommodations may include time off work for religious observances. See 29 CFR §1605.2(d)(1)(ii) (reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs may include floating or optional holidays); 2 Cal Code Regs §11062(a).

And IWC Wage Order Nos. 1–13, 16–17 state the following at varying sections within each Order:

An employer shall explore any available reasonable alternative means of accommodating the religious belief or observance of an affected employee that conflicts with an adopted alternative workweek schedule, in the manner provided by [Govt C §12940(j)].

An employer can only get out of granting time off for a religious holiday if it would cause an undue hardship. This is an exception that employers should consider very carefully before using.

Not only is it often possible to provide the reasonable accommodation without undue hardship but, as Jon Hyman explains in his article on LexisNexis Legal Newsroom, this could lead to a lawsuit because “it will be difficult to assert that a day off creates an undue hardship if you have a history of permitting days off for medical or other reasons.”

Employers may see this as strictly a legal and policy decision, but Jon Hyman notes that it really taps into a question that’s much larger than that:

Do you want to be a company that promotes tolerance or fosters exclusion?

When crafting employee leave policies for California employers, make sure to first consult CEB’s Employee Leave Laws: Compliance and Litigation.

Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

2 Responses

  1. Great post! Thanks, Julie.

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