It's not necessary to call in sick on Fridays so you can go to temple. Federal and state laws protect your right to practice religion during the workweek and even in the workplace. Talk to your boss about ways you can get your work done and still have the time you need during the week for your religion.
An employer must make a good-faith effort to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious practice unless such accommodation unduly affects the employer’s business, according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act, which sets guidelines for employers to follow when accommodating an employee’s religious practices, also bars employers from taking action against an employee who asks for such an accommodation. Title VII also exempts employees from participating, or not participating, in a religious activity as a condition of employment. Employers also cannot use religion as a basis for hiring or firing someone or for treating them differently than another employee.
Accommodations for Orthodox Jews
Orthodox Jews adhere to and follow all laws spelled out in the Torah, such as observing the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. If your employer schedules a test or meeting on the Sabbath, she must offer alternate arrangements. While state and federal laws require an employer to offer accommodations, these laws don’t spell out what the accommodations should include. Reasonable accommodations can include letting you work a four-day work-week or work different hours -- or take time off -- to accommodate your religious practice. Your employer must also create an environment in which you feel comfortable, such as one that puts in place consequences for harassment. An employer may also agree to let you use your office, for example, for prayer or to let you place religious symbols in your work space. Employers must also let male employees wear yarmulkes, as long as it doesn’t create an undue hardship on the business.
Federal and state laws do not regulate how -- or if -- an employer should compensate you for any time you take off for religious reasons. An employer can ask you to use sick or vacation days. If you don’t have available paid time off, your employer could let you take unpaid leave, but this is up to your employer. Similarly, an employer does not have to pay you for any overtime you incur by working additional hours on one day to have time off on a different day.
If an employer neither accommodates your religious practice nor explains how and why doing so would create an undue hardship, you can report your employer to watchdog agencies who can help. The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, for example, can intercede on your behalf, as it did for an Orthodox Jewish woman whose request to leave early on Fridays to observe the Sabbath was denied. You can also contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which will investigate your claims and intercede on your behalf.
- Jewish Law: Religious Accommodation in the Workplace -- Your Rights and Obligations
- Orthodox Union Advocacy Center: Religious Freedom
- Religious Tolerance: Religious Freedom in the Workplace
- The Center for Association Leadership: Religion in the Workplace -- Make a Good-Faith Effort to Accommodate
- Anti-Defamation League: Religious Accommodation in the Workplace
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Questions and Answers About Religious Discrimination in the Workplace
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.