Employees and religious holidays

Religious holidays are days that people celebrate for religious reasons.

Check out the Calendar of cultural and religious dates on the Department of Social Services’ website for a list of religious holidays.

Benefits of letting your employees celebrate religious holidays

There are many benefits if you allow your employees to celebrate their religious holidays, including:

  • higher productivity from your staff
  • improved job satisfaction for your staff
  • less risk of lawsuits due to anti-discrimination law
  • improved workplace culture
  • retaining talented employees.

Anti-discrimination law and religious holidays

It can be discrimination if you don’t allow your employees to celebrate religious holidays.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009 and state and territory anti-discrimination law, it’s illegal to discriminate against employees due to religion. Both direct and indirect discrimination are illegal:

  • Direct discrimination is when someone directly mistreats someone because of attributes, such as religion. For example, direct discrimination would include mocking an employee because she celebrated a religious holiday.
  • Indirect discrimination is imposing an unnecessary requirement that disadvantages a group with an attribute, such as a religion. For example, you may be liable if you put a compulsory training day on a religious holiday and then fire an employee for not attending it because the employee was away due to a religious holiday.

To avoid liability, it’s a good idea to let employees celebrate their religious holidays if they need to.

Read the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Workplace discrimination page to learn more about anti-discrimination law and the workplace.

How do I manage religious holidays?

Depending on the circumstances, some of your options for employees who need to celebrate religious holidays may include:

  • a normal working day with no changes, if your employee agrees and it suits their religious needs
  • allowing your employees to use leave entitlements
  • celebrating religious holidays at work
  • flexible work arrangements, such as allowing your employees to work different hours or shifts to let them fulfil their religious obligations.

What to do...

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