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Can I Be Forced To Work On Christmas?

by | Dec 23, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Religious Discrimination |

Are there any laws that prevent my company from forcing me to work on Christmas?

No, there are no federal laws that specifically preclude employers from scheduling employees to work on Christmas or Christmas Eve. Likewise, with the exception of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, no other state restricts the ability of companies to operate and require attendance on Christmas.

Massachusetts blue light laws prevent businesses from scheduling employees to work on Christmas unless the business falls within a list of 55 exemptions or obtains a permit. While in Rhode Island, employees must be given the opportunity to decline to work on holidays, including Christmas, except when working for manufacturers that typically operates seven days a week.

Can I get a religious accommodation not to work on Christmas?

You are very unlikely to be able to get a religious accommodation to avoid working on Christmas. There are no federal cases that have held in favor of an employee when seeking a religious accommodation to avoid working on Christmas.

When can I get time off as a religious accommodation under Title VII?

In addition to making it unlawful for employers to discriminate and harass employees base on their religion, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also requires companies to provide religious accommodations to its employees, as long as any such accommodation does not cause an undue hardship.

In Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67, 70, 73 S.Ct. 526, 527, 97 L.Ed. 828 (1953), the United States Supreme Court held that a “religious” belief is entitled to protection as “not merely a matter of personal preference, but one of deep religious conviction, shared by an organized group, and intimately related to daily living.” While Fowler focused on First Amendment issues, it has since regularly been applied in Title VII cases. Religious accommodation at work will only be required where the employee’s beliefs are rooted in religion instead of purely secular beliefs or personal preferences. See Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707, 713, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 67 L.Ed.2d 624 (1981). Stated more simply, where an employee may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation for religious observance and practice, no such accommodation will be available where the requested accommodation is merely incidental to a religious observance, practice, or belief. Incidental requests will must likely be considered by court to be a personal preference, and thus, not protected under Title VII.

For example, in Wessling v. Kroger Co., 554 F.Supp. 548 (E.D.Mich.1982), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan held that an employee’s “social” and “family oriented” decision to volunteer at her church Christmas pageant was personal preference outside of a religious requirement; and that as a result, her employer was not required to accommodate the employee’s accommodation request to leave work three hours early to go to church.

Likewise, in Dachman v. Shalala, 9 Fed.Appx. 186, 191–93 (4th Cir.2003), the employee sued after his employer would not grant an accommodation to let the employee leave early to prepare for the Sabbath. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit considered the following:

All parties agree that appellant was given at least two hours leave every Friday. Appellant stated that the two hour leave did not give her sufficient time to pick up Challah bread from a Jewish store. However, appellant admitted that the Jewish store began making the bread on Thursday morning. Appellant stated that the store was open until 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays, and she stated that she had on occasion gone shopping on Thursday night. When asked why she could not pick up the bread on Thursday night, appellant responded:

[The children] are starving. They want to eat and they want to do homework. They don’t want to leave the house. They’re very conservative. They don’t want to leave the house after they get home in the evening. They get very upset when I say I want to go somewhere.

Id. at 192 (citations to the record and footnotes omitted). The Fourth Circuit concluded because the employee made a choice based on her preference and not a religious requirement, she was not entitled to a protection under Title VII.

Of course, there are cases that have gone the other way. In Jiglov v. Hotel Peabody, G.P., 719 F. Supp. 2d 918 (W.D. Tenn. 2010), the employee, who is a practicing member of the Russian Orthodox Church, requested that his employer provide him off from work to observe the Easter holiday. The employee presented evidence that the “Russian Orthodox Easter extends from a midnight mass on Sunday morning to the end of the day on Sunday,” including a special meal shared with family and blessed by the priest and that “it would have been a violation of my sincerely held religious beliefs to have missed this time of prayer and celebration with my family to work on the Russian Orthodox Easter.” Rejecting the employer’s argument that the employee could have gone to a presumed midnight mass and still worked his shift, the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee held that this can be viewed by the jury as a sincerely held religious belief that deserved accommodation rather than a preference. Id. at 927–28.

Thus, the issue on Christmas would likely be if there are service options and whether scheduling a family meal or get together becomes a preference as opposed to a sincerely held religious belief.

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Can my employer reject my religious accommodation?

Employers can decline to provide a religious accommodation if providing such accommodation would cause them an undue hardship. After an employee demonstrates that an accommodation is need to allow that employee to comply with a sincerely held religious belief, the employer has the burden to demonstrate that it could not reasonably accommodate the employee without undue hardship, which is determined on a case-by-case basis based on the nature of the accommodation and resources of the employer.36 Because each situation is different, this is typically an issue for a jury to decide. E.E.O.C. v. Arlington Transit Mix, Inc., 957 F.2d 219, 222 (6th Cir.1991).

An undue hardship will be found when an employer is required “bear more than a de minimis cost in order to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs.” Tepper v. Potter, 505 F.3d 508, 514 (6th Cir.2007). The concept of “de minimis cost” involves both monetary costs, as well as the employer’s ability to conduct business. Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63, 84 n. 15, 97 S.Ct. 2264, 2277 n. 15, 53 L.Ed.2d 113 (1977).

While a company is not required to actually attempt the requested accommodation to establish an undue hardship, it is not sufficient for that employer to simply claim that an “accommodation would be bothersome to administer or disruptive of the operating routine.” Smith v. Pyro Mining Co., 827 F.2d 1081, 1085 (6th Cir.1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 989, 108 S.Ct. 1293, 99 L.Ed.2d 503 (1988). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit further held that employers cannot rely on mere “speculative” or “hypothetical hardships” that may result from accommodations never attempted. Id.

Thus, while allowing employees to voluntarily trade shifts to accommodate will likely be found to be a reasonable accommodation, employers often will succeed by pointing to having difficulty finding other employees to cover holiday shifts or the necessity of paying other employees more wages as an incentive for covering shifts as an undue hardship. Given the number of employees who celebrate Christmas, it would likely be an undue hardship to accommodate every employee’s request to have the same day off. Certainly, even if only 20 percent of the workforce wanted to take Christmas off (and it is likely closer to 90 percent), the employer would face an undue hardship to having enough employees to operate the business or find replacements to work on Christmas.

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How do I find a religious accommodation lawyer?

If you think that your employer is discriminating or harassing you because of your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm. Our employee’s rights lawyers will provide you with a free and confidential consultation.


The religious accommodation at work right materials available at the top of this religious discrimination blog and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The answers to questions about your specific case will not be found online. Instead, you should contact an employee’s rights law firm to obtain direct advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem that you may be encountering. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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