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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Are Christmas closings discriminatory?

Photo by Kevin Burkett - Macy's Christmas Light Show HR Review, a British HR website, asks the following question: “Is closing office for  Christmas ‘indirect discrimination’?” For example, would anyone doubt the discriminatory nature of a policy that offers maternity leave to new moms but denies the same to new dads? Yet, no one bats an eye when a business shuts down, with pay, for Christmas, but requires its Jewish employees to use a vacation day if they want to be paid to stay home on Yom Kippur.

I have two thoughts:

  1. This question does not compare apples to apples. Businesses offer designated paid holidays as a benefit to employees. Some are religious and some are not. If a business remained open on Christmas (a hospital, for example) and gave its Christian employees the day off with pay and without requiring the use of a vacation day, employees of other faiths would have a legitimate complaint. But, granting a paid day off to all employees as a benefit is simply not a fair comparison.

  2. An employer does not have to make a religious accommodation if it imposes an undue hardship. In religious discrimination cases, undue hardship is a low standard – anything more than a de minimus cost or burden. The possible accommodation – being paid for a religious holiday without using a vacation day – would impose an undue hardship. An employee should not expect to receive what would amount to an extra paid vacation day just because of a religious affiliation.

Everyone enjoy your day off in a few weeks.

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