At Canterbury Law Group, we receive many seasonal calls regarding employees and time off. Under federal law, an employer typically cannot make work-related decisions based upon an employee’s religion. Therefore, an employer has to give its workers some time off from work to exercise their religion and celebrate holidays. Employers may face crucial legal problems for refusing time off.
Example – There are many religious-based holidays that may interrupt the usual work schedule. Popular holidays are Christmas and Chanukah, and many employees find it easy to enjoy these days. However, sometimes, an employer doesn’t agree with a certain religion or holiday, which becomes a problem.
Recently, a former sales manager of a Bath and Body Works store in Connecticut filed a discrimination lawsuit under Title VII. She claims she was terminated because she took vacation time to celebrate the Wiccan New Year. According to lawsuit, her previous management at the company allowed her to use her vacation time for this holiday for the last six years, but new management opposed. The employee claims she was directed that she would need a new career if she took the time off. When she returned, she was immediately terminated. The employee is suing for back pay and other money damages.
The Law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is the major federal discrimination law. This means that it is illegal for employers to treat workers differently because of certain characteristics, such as sex and race. It also bars discrimination based upon religion. Therefore, employers can’t make it harder for employees of a certain religion to get hired and / or promoted or give them better or worse working hours than workers of other religions. They also can’t terminate workers based upon their religious beliefs.
Violating Title VII may bring large fines and other costs associated with the case. An employee who is improperly refused time off or fired because of his religion may be able to get his job back and get paid for the time he was out of work.
Use Caution – Employers need to be careful when it comes to refusing time off for religious-based holidays. Vacation time can’t be refused simply because the employer doesn’t believe in the holiday or religion. However, legitimate business reasons are another story. For a retailer, the holidays may be the busiest time of the year, and so a full workforce may be required. A holiday may also happen to fall at a time when a large project needs to be completed. In these situations, it is possible to limit an employee’s time off.
If you are an employee or employer and have questions about legal time off, call us today to schedule your consultation at 480-744-7711