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Is Being Forced To Attend a Work Christmas Party Religious Discrimination?

Posted December 22, 2020 | Discrimination

In a normal year, now would be the time for holiday work parties where departments come together for Secret Santa exchanges, after-work drinks, and joyous merriment. But when your holiday party takes on an extreme religious theme, can it be considered religious discrimination if you are required to attend? The employment attorneys of Brown Kwon & Lam take a look at religious freedom in the workplace.

Religion at Work

There are both state and federal laws which give employees the right to practice religion at work. They include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Provided protection for the practice of religion at work without being discriminated against in all forms of employment including hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, and benefits. It also includes the right to reasonable accommodations to practice religion at work.
  • The New York City Human Rights Law: Employers cannot discriminate against employees based upon their religion/religious practices or lack thereof.

In addition, New York State law requires employers to allow workers to observe holy days unless in doing so, it would cause an “undue hardship” to the employer.

In allowing employees to celebrate their religious holidays, the employer may require workers to:

  • Make up the work missed at another time;
  • Use paid leave; or
  • Take leave without pay for time not made up or charged to paid leave.

So, where does the work Christmas/holiday party come in?

Holiday Celebrations At Work: Are they legal?

In general, your employer calling your work party a “Christmas Party” on face value is not discriminatory. However, if your boss makes it mandatory for your entire office to say a Catholic prayer and doesn’t allow a Jewish or Islam coworker to say a prayer from their own practice, that would be discriminatory.

However, if everyone in the office is of the same religion, or is expected to be (ie. you work at a Christian school, a Synagog, a Temple) it is reasonable that the employer has a holiday-specific party.

Timing also matters–if the event is during the workday, your boss can make you go (so long as it is not overtly religious in nature). But if it is after hours, it can be difficult to force employees to attend, especially if they already feel uncomfortable about the circumstances.

In general, forcing any sort of religious practice upon employees would be discriminatory, which is why many offices are moving away from the religious, Christian-centric holiday titles and being more open in the names they give gatherings. But, just because the name of the gathering is “Christmas Party” doesn’t mean it’s Christian enough to be a religious discrimination case.

Remember, if your employer has implemented a policy that you must do something that goes against your religion, you may have a discrimination claim.

New York Religious Discrimination Attorneys: Brown Kwon & Lam

If you are a victim of religious discrimination in your workplace and are in need of legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the New York employment discrimination attorneys of Brown Kwon & Lam. We will fight for your rights.

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