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The Christmas Conundrum

The holidays are a joyous time of year, but many employers face the season with a certain sense of trepidation as their employees inevitably request time off work.  As the holiday season kicks into full gear, now is a good time for employers to refresh themselves on basic guidelines for granting and denying employees’ vacation requests.

As a starting point, the availability of time off is typically dependent on a number of factors, including the employer's formal policies, employment contracts, or a collective bargaining agreement. While there are no express state or federal laws requiring private employers to provide time off to celebrate holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does require employers to "reasonably accommodate" an employee's religious practices, so long as it does not impose an "undue hardship" on the employer. Allowing an employee time off to observe a recognized religious holiday is normally a reasonable accommodation that should be made, if requested, without an undue burden.

Although some employers voluntarily reward employees with at least some time off during the holidays, employers must be careful to recognize that some employees may observe holidays that are not reflected in the employer’s office calendar. For example, if employees are given time off for Christmas day but not for Ramadan, employees observing the Muslim holiday may claim discrimination. Such situations can typically be avoided by utilizing "floating holidays" which allow time off for religious days that do not appear on a company's official schedule. In addition, employers can include in the company policy that any holiday not appearing on the calendar can be requested and granted subject to review.

This article is intended as a summary of  federal and state law and does not constitute legal advice.

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