Holidays at work: How to celebrate in an inclusive way

Holidays at work: How to celebrate in an inclusive way

Claudia García

February 11, 2021

March 10, 2021

Life outside of work and your commitments can sometimes conflict with your work schedule. When these commitments are religious practices, it can be especially difficult to openly discuss them in the office, especially when the religion does not match with the schedules and holidays imposed on the company.

Some employees demand specific holidays, worship times, or fasting periods. However, many companies do not provide for these options and it is difficult for the employee to request them, especially if they are the only ones in the company. Companies should not discriminate on the basis of religion and must make reasonable accommodations for religious needs. To end this problem it is necessary that managers try to legally satisfy the needs of these employees.

How can managers satisfy these needs?

  • Be open to the needs of employees by establishing a formal policy regarding time off for religious reasons or anything that might affect their practices, such as a dress code.
  • Be flexible about the timing of taking time off for religious practice. This way, you can offer the possibility of arriving earlier in the day or leaving later in the day.
  • Offer options for communicating among peers about how to set schedules that work for everyone and are mutually beneficial.
  • Inform the employees that they should notify you as soon as they know the dates of your religious holiday. In addition, ask them to remind you when the day is about to come to plan their absence.
  • Agree with employees on the use of their rights to take time off from work.
  • Recognize or celebrate these holidays in the workplace to promote awareness and inclusion.

What are the benefits for the company and the employee?

Recognizing and embracing diversity in the workplace helps employees feel valued for their unique qualities, ideas and perspectives.  It extends to recognizing that employees may wish to celebrate culturally important or religious days and events throughout the year.

Adopting cultural or religious holiday celebrations benefits the entire workplace and can lead to increased: job satisfaction, morale, and workplace cultural productivity.

How do you handle employees who celebrate different holidays than the Christians?

Any company that bases its vacation schedule on vacations designated by its country's government is likely to face a similar dilemma if it employs Jews, Muslims, or other practicing individuals seeking time off for religious holidays other than those celebrated by Christians.

What should a manager do when an employee's religious holidays are not on his or her company's list of planned days? 

The first step in developing religiously inclusive policies is to understand the diversity of religions and religious practices that exist among your employees. Managers should follow the laws and regulations of the places where they work by knowing the guidance on how to avoid religious discrimination and how to accommodate employees' beliefs in the workplace.

Fair and flexible vacation policies should be established to meet the needs of all employees.

Another option being considered would be to replace separate vacation and sick leave policies with combined paid time off (PTO) policies. This would be done in order to have more control over the amount of time off your employees take while giving them more flexibility regarding when they can take their time off.

 "One of the major advantages of this approach to time off is that it allows greater flexibility with respect to the practice of religious and ethnic celebrations.”

What problems can arise if this is not accomplished?

Companies should be careful about establishing rigid licensing policies because the application of such policies can result in a claim of religious discrimination. All workplaces should have "floating holidays" to ensure that others can take PTO when they celebrate a holiday other than the days off imposed by the company.

It is illegal for managers to discriminate employees because of their religion or national origin. To avoid legal problems, it is a good idea for managers to agree that employees take time off to celebrate cultural or religious holidays.