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Celebrating Religious Holidays and Accommodating Employees

Creating inclusion and diversity in the workplace extends to religious holidays. Though religion in the workplace can be a complex issue, it contributes to employee job satisfaction, performance, and cultivating a sense of belonging. Whether you observe nationally recognized holidays or not, it is important to consider religious holidays from any and all religions—not just those widely celebrated.

A Look at Major Religious Holidays 2023

To help break the ice, here is a list of religious holidays (though not all inclusive of all religions or holidays) to explore.

  • Christian Religious Holidays (Roman Catholic/Protestant/Eastern Orthodox)
    • Epiphany/Twelfth Night/Three Kings Day
    • Easter
    • Christmas
    • Ash Wednesday
    • Palm Sunday
    • Maundy Thursday
    • Good Friday
    • Holy Friday/Good Friday
  • Muslim Religious Holidays
    • Eid al-Adha
    • Ramadan
    • Eid al-Fitr
  • Jewish Religious Holidays
    • Rosh Hashanah
    • Yom Kippur
    • Sukkot
    • Shemini Atzeret
    • Simchat Torah
    • Hanukkah/Chanukah
    • Purim
    • Pesach/Passover
    • Yom HaSho’ah
    • Shavuot
    • Tisha B’Av
  • Hindu Religious Holidays
    • Raksha Bandhan
    • Krishna Janmashtami
    • Navaratri
    • Holi
  • Buddhist
    • Diwali*
    • Chinese New Year**
    • Buddha Day/Visakha Puja
  • Other
    • Pagan/Wiccan/Druid
      • Lammas/Lughnasadh
      • Mabon/Alban Elfed/Autumnal Equinox
      • Samhain
      • Yule/Midwinter/Alban Arthan/Winter Solstice
      • Imbolc/Candlemas
      • Ostara/Alban Eilir/Spring Equinox
      • Beltane
      • Litha/Midsomer/Alban Hefin/Summer Solstice
    • Baha’i
      • Birth of Bahá’u’lláh
      • Naw Ruz
      • Ascension of the Baha’ullah
    • Shinto
      • Gantan-sai
      • Setsubun-sai
      • Sikh
      • Vaisakhi
    • African American/Pan-African
      • Kwanzaa

*Also observed by Hindu, Sikh, Jain
**Also observed by Confucian, Taoist

Though common Christian holidays are observed, like Christmas and Easter, it should also be noted that Americans are abandoning Christianity and identifying as unaffiliated with any religion or as religious "nones." In fact, many religious identities among Americans are shifting to atheism, agnosticism, or “none in particular.”

Additionally, it is important to consider the generational gaps in the workforce. For example, Gen Zers are changing and rejecting religion faster as young adults than other age groups in the United States.

For more information, you can explore this HR Guide to Company Holidays.

Navigating Religion in the Workplace Best Practices

As you navigate religion in the workplace, here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

1. Provide Religious Accommodations. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal agencies are prohibited from discriminating against applicants or employees due to religious beliefs in hiring, terminating, and other terms and conditions of employment. Title VII also requires federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would cause an undue hardship on the agency.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains that an accommodation is constituted as undue hardship if it:

  • Is expensive or costs the employer more than a minimal amount of money to put into place
  • Negatively impacts workplace safety
  • Reduces workplace efficiency
  • Transgresses on the rights of other workers
  • Requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work
  • Violates an employer’s seniority system
  • Leads to a lack of necessary staffing
  • Jeopardizes workplace security or health

If an undue hardship is not presented, the employer must provide an accommodation for the requesting employee. Religious accommodation in the workplace often involves flexibility of work schedules (i.e. not working on a Sunday), dress code (i.e. wearing a hijab) and grooming, or religious expression.

While an employer is required to provide an accommodation where undue hardship is not met, employees are not guaranteed nor entitled to their preferred accommodation. For example, a worker who requests Sundays off for religious accommodation may be offered a different schedule or a role of equal qualification but with a reduced salary.

2. Prevent Religious Discrimination. Under harassment laws, harassment of an individual based on their religious beliefs is prohibited. Additionally, it is illegal to discriminate or segregate a workplace or job based on religion, including religious clothing and grooming practices. To prevent discrimination and harassment, it is important to ensure you have a strong workplace policy and continuous harassment training for all levels of employees within your organization.

3. Build a Workplace Policy. Your workplace policy likely already contains information regarding employee Code of Conduct, harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and reporting expectations and processes. But it is important to review and revamp your policy to also ensure your workplace culture cultivates a safe, inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their religious identities.

According to recent studies, employees who identified religion as a fundamental part of their lives were more likely to disclose their religion in the workplace. Conversely, employees who felt pressure to assimilate in the workplace were less likely to disclose their religion.

Moreover, researchers have found that employees who express their religious beliefs in the workplace experience positive outcomes, such as higher job satisfaction and perceived well-being. Though most research on religion in the workplace focuses on the impacts to stress management, job satisfaction, and performance, researchers encourage leaders, managers, and HR professionals to utilize these studies to assess their workplace culture and policies to encourage religious expression for employees at all levels of the organization.

Though religion in the workplace has some caveats, it also can be an integral part of an individual’s identity. If you would like to continue learning more, check out this blog where HR professionals answer religious questions

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