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T'is the Season! When is an employer required to give employees time off for religious holidays? Paid time off for non-statutory religious holidays?

November 30, 2008

T′is the season. To give or not to give TIME OFF for non-statutory religious holidays?

There are over 100 days a year of religious observances. But can employees take them off and at what cost?

Toronto. Dec.1, 2008. There are over one hundred days a year designated as religious observance days, according to a recent count of a world religions calendar, yet only a few are considered statutory holidays such as Christmas day.

But is an employer required to give employees days off that are NOT statutory holidays? The answer in most cases, according to Employment Lawyer, Janice Rubin, is YES.

" Under the Human Rights Code, employers have a duty to accommodate employees′ religious observances to the point of undue hardship." says Rubin.
"This means that unless an employer can establish that the request would unduly burden the employer, it is likely that the religious observance will have to be granted."

However, employees taking days off for non-statutory religious holidays may not necessarily get paid.

What does this mean for employees?
1. Time off for religious observation is generally required unless undue hardship by the employer can be established.
2. Paid time? Employers are generally NOT required to pay employees for time off if the employee is given options relating to the time off such as working an alternative day. An exception to this would be if it were part of the employee′s employment agreement that such time off is paid.
3. Paid time off during the day? An employer is generally not required to pay employees who request time off during the day to tend to religious observation, such as praying, unless it is a term of the employee′s employment agreement that such time off is paid.
4. Religious observance practices must be applied to all employees. If the terms of an employee′s employment provide for paid religious observations, it would be discriminatory to provide paid days off for one employee and not another.

"The task for employers" says Rubin, " is to adapt its′ workplace rules with the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. My advice to employers is to make every effort to provide options such as scheduling changes for their employees that don′t result in loosing pay"


Janice Rubin, B.A. LL.B., is a founding partner of Rubin Thomlinson, a boutique law firm in Toronto, specializing in employment law and human rights issues.

Ms. Rubin was ranked by her fellow lawyers as one of the The Best Lawyers in Canada in 2006, 2007-08 and 2009. She was also named one of Canada′s foremost experts on employment law, in The Lexpert Directory of top-ranked legal experts. Janice is recognized for her depth of expertise in all areas of workplace law, and is recognized as a leading authority in areas of workplace harassment. She is a highly skilled mediator in workplace disputes.

For more information and to interview Janice Rubin
Please contact:

Marjorie Wallens, 416-961-5924

For more information contact:
Marjorie Wallens
MJW Communications
Phone: 416-961-5924
Cell: 416-708-3783

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