Can your employer force you to work on religious holidays?

Freedom of religion is one of the basic rights that form the backbone of American society. It is so important that it is part of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Your right to freedom of religion includes the right to be free from religious discrimination in the workplace.

Your religion should not play a role in any employment decisions made by your employer, such as hiring, firing, promotions and compensation rates. Additionally, your employer should not restrict your observation or practice of your religion.

Most companies should respect requests by workers attempting to practice their faith, such as requiring a day off for worship or to celebrate a special holy day. Can your employer force you to work on a holy day or a day of worship for your religion? 

Employers should make reasonable religious accommodations

Employers in New York have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations for workers’ requests based on their faith. An employee asking for a specific day off to attend religious services, for example, is usually a reasonable request. An employer can likely accommodate that request without it affecting their ability to do business.

However, if a company can show that accommodating an employee’s request for time off or religious observation would cause them undue hardship, they can then reasonably deny the request. One example might be a worker whose faith requires that they take Sunday off to go to a religious service.

If their employer does business on Sundays, they might schedule that worker for that day. Reasonable accommodations might include giving the shift to someone else. However, if that business doesn’t have anyone else capable of performing the work, they might argue that not having staffing is a hardship.

In other words, they could request that you work on Sunday and discipline you if you decline to do so. The business also doesn’t have to allow time off on special days either if the request would constitute a hardship. 

Businesses can typically accommodate holy days and worship

While a small business may not be able to give all of their staff members certain days off without financial repercussions, big businesses typically have the staffing necessary to cover all critical functions even when certain members of the staff need time off for religious observation.

If you believe that you have faced inappropriate discipline or other forms of discrimination because of your religious beliefs, you may want to discuss the situation with the lawyer to see if you have the right to take action.

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