Private employers are not required to observe national
holidays, except for banks that follow the closing schedule of the
Federal Reserve Board. Granting paid time off for holidays in private
employment is more a matter of custom and union contract negotiation
Private employers almost universally observe six holidays.
The “standard six” are New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence
Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. After the standard
six, the Friday after Thanksgiving, Good Friday, and Presidents Day
are the next most commonly observed holidays across the nation. However,
employers have discretion when it comes to determining whether to
grant holidays and, if so, which days to observe.
It is important for employers to be sensitive to an individual
employee’s religious obligations regarding holiday observances. Employers
should accommodate an employee’s request for time off for a holiday
observance if the accommodation does not require more than a de minimis
cost or burden to business operations (i.e., does not create an undue
Some courts have ruled that requiring employees to take
paid or unpaid leave on days they wish to observe as personal religious
holidays meets the test of reasonable accommodation. Many employers
grant all employees one or two paid personal days or floating holidays
each year for this purpose.
For many in America, the holiday season is the annual
splurge of parties, celebrations, and consumption that spans from
Halloween to New Year's Day. Somewhere between the candy, turkey,
and champagne, most workplaces stop to observe Christmas. But Christians
aren't the only ones with sacred holidays during the holiday season.
Bodhi Day. On December 8, Buddhists
celebrate Bodhi Day to commemorate the day Buddha attained enlightenment
under the Bodhi tree. To the Buddhist, it is a day of remembrance
and meditation, much like the Christian celebration of the birth of
Jesus on December 25.
Hanukkah. Hanukkah, “The Festival
of Lights,” is an 8-day holiday that celebrates when the Jews regained
control of Jerusalem and rededicated the temple after its desecration
by the forces of the king of Syria. According to Jewish law and custom,
the primary ritual of Hanukkah is the lighting of candles each night,
so employees may want to leave early so that they can be home to light
the candles at nightfall. The dates of Hanukkah are determined by
the Hebrew calendar and can fall anywhere from late November to late
Kwanzaa. In 1966, Kwanzaa was created
by author, political activist, and college professor Maulana Karenga
as the first specifically African-American holiday. It is observed
from December 26 to January 1 as a "celebration of family, community,
Ashura and Eid al-Adha. For Muslims,
Ashura commemorates the day Nuh (Noah) left the Ark and the day that
Musa (Moses) was saved from the Egyptians by Allah, and the martyrdom
of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed. It is a day of fasting
for Sunni Muslims.
Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, the "Festival of Sacrifice"
or "Greater Eid," in commemoration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice
his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. As part of the holiday,
men, women, and children are expected to dress in their finest clothing
and join a large congregation in an open area or mosque for prayer.
Although Eid al-Adha is always on the same day of the
Islamic calendar, the date on the Gregorian calendar (also known as
the western or Christian calendar) varies from year to year since
it is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar.
Furthermore, Eid al-Adha falls on one of two different Gregorian dates
in different parts of the world because the boundary of crescent visibility
is different from the international date line. It should be noted
that in the Muslim calendar, a holiday begins at sunset on the previous
Employers are required to reasonably accommodate religious
practices unless accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the
conduct of business.
Please see the
national Religious Discrimination
A potentially difficult issue for employers during the
holidays is whether to allow employees to decorate their work spaces
with religious symbols and whether the company itself should decorate.
Employees don't have an absolute right to engage in religious speech
and expression in the workplace. Employers may establish reasonable
restrictions on their manner of religious speech or expression in
the workplace. If employees generally are allowed to decorate their
work spaces with pictures and other items, a prohibition on decorations
that are religious might be considered discriminatory. Also, one religion
should not be favored over another. If one employee is allowed to
put up Christmas decorations, another one shouldn't be banned from
putting up Kwanzaa decorations.
There is a distinction between allowing employees to
decorate their personal work spaces and the company decorating the
office. An employer should not be seen as promoting one religion over
another or endorsing religion generally. Accordingly, decorations
should stick to a general holiday theme rather than focusing on Christmas,
Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and so on. The more one specific group is recognized,
the greater the chance of offending someone who has been left out.
It's best to keep decorations as nonspecific and neutral as possible.
The same considerations apply to the office holiday party.
Generic decorations to put the office in the holiday
mood can include:
• Gingerbread houses,
• Snowmen, and
• Candy canes.
In recent years, many employers have begun using a bank
of “floating” holidays in full or partial replacement of a system
of company-designated holidays. Floating holidays are days that the
employee can self-designate as holidays in order to take a day off.
Employees may use floating holidays to observe a religious holiday,
create a long weekend when a company-recognized holiday falls on a
Thursday, take a day off on his or her birthday, etc.
use a combination of designated and floating holidays, and a small
but growing group of employers use floating holidays exclusively.
If your company employs a floating holiday system, you may wish to
implement specific rules and procedures that provide for ample notice
to the employer when an employee chooses to designate a floating holiday.
This will help to avoid work disruption and minimize the possibility
that the floating holidays will be used instead as a backup bank of
sick and personal days.