With the upcoming Easter holidays and a number of other public holidays one begs the question: Does an employee have a right to religious holidays?
At present there are no laws that specifically govern religious holidays. South Africa has 13 official public holidays of which only two are regarded as religious holidays, Christmas and Good Friday.
These holidays are granted to employees irrespective of their religious observances. Confusion can arise on how to deal with these religious holidays when taking into account other faiths such as Islam,Judaism etc. Employees have no legal entitlement to take time off to observe religious holidays. Many employers do however reached an agreement between themselves and the employees in an attempt to not discriminate based on religion.
WHAT DEOS THE BASIC CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT ACT (BCEA) SAY ABOUT RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS:
The basic conditions BCEA act remains unchanged despite some employment contracts stating that all public holidays are normal working days. A legislated public holiday cannot be changed to a normal working day. No employer has the authority to change the law. The BCEA states that public holidays may only be worked on by agreement between the employer and employee. Does this imply that an employee can refuse to work on a public holiday particularly if it is a matter of religion?
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO AVOID ANY CONFUSION AMONGST EMPLOYEES AND EMPLOYERS IN RESPECT OF RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS:
It is always advisable that various leave options are discussed from the outset when the terms of employment are discussed and incorporated into the contract. This will ensure that all parties are clear about what to do with regards to these specific religious holidays.
When employers do agree to give employees time off to observe religious holidays they need to be clear on whether it will be in the form of paid or unpaid leave. Employees cannot be forced to work on public holidays unless it is agreed between the employers and the employees and employers have to compensate with employees for working on a public holiday. This would not apply where the employee want to off to observe a religious holiday that are not recognised as official public holidays.
This issue will remain an unclear in law until such a time that some suitable amendments are made to the BCEA.