Holidays and Religious Employee Rights
A holiday is generally a day set apart by law or custom, where normal daytime activities, particularly work or school including church, are either suspended or completely eliminated. In most cases, such holidays are meant to let people commemorate or celebrate an occasion or religious or cultural value of particular importance. Normally, people would plan a vacation in such a way so as to spend it with family and friends and take time out from their everyday work routine. In the UK, the public holidays and statutory holidays are those that are set apart by the government and are not controlled by the majority of local communities. The government also gives authority for local communities to have control over these public holidays.
Holiday issues are more complex in the UK because of the differing beliefs and views held by different sections of the society and the different laws that apply. Religious groups are allowed to have some influence in running the affairs of churches and schools, but not at the same time as there are instances where employees are fired for their views on religious holidays. There have also been instances where employees have been fired for their views expressed during assemblies regarding certain religions.
At the same time, some employers in the UK have been known to give support for certain religions during the festive season. This has been seen, for instance, in relation to the Christmas trade fair which is run by the world’s largest Catholic Church. During this event, many of the major social services and welfare organizations are participating. In the United Kingdom, as is the case with other parts of the world, the majority of employers who organize the Christmas events do so only for their own purposes and do not necessarily show any sort of spiritual leaning.
Some employers offer holiday pay for employees who take time off from work to go on vacation, on religious holidays or to participate in special events. Other employers offer holiday pay in addition to a regular pay package. An employer may decide to offer holiday pay either separately or in addition to another type of pay package. The employee would have to ask for this type of arrangement.
Employers who fail to make provision for religious holidays in their holiday pay policies may be in breach of the Fair Employers’ Act of 1996. According to that law, such companies are required to “give prospective employees reasonable notice of the intended consequences” if they fail to offer accommodation for religious holidays. For example, such companies may be expected to inform employees in advance about the dates of Christmas, Easter and Hanukkah. Failure to inform the employees of these particular religious holidays could constitute a valid defense to an action for discrimination based on that reason alone.
In addition to religious holidays, some employers also choose to give out alternative forms of pay during the course of the year. For instance, some companies create a “buy-in” option for new employees. This means that each new employee is given the option of choosing a holiday for which they receive no pay. However, if the employee does not want to work on any religious holiday, they may decline to take the buy-in option. In both of these situations, the employer has not violated the Act by declining to make accommodations for religious holidays.