Can a small business require and threaten to fire an employee if they don’t attend a

My sister and her daughter work for a small podiatry office. They are closed on weekends. The new female office manager is wanting everyone to bond over alcohol infused bonding sessions over the weekends. Both my sister and her daughter attend the church where our father is the pastor. They have been told if they miss the bonding sessions, that they do not get paid to attend because of church, they will be fired. Is this legal and, if not, how can we combat this violation of the religious freedom act?

Asked on September 15, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Kentucky

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

1) You can be fired for not attending "bonding sessions" or office parties or get togethers as a general matter, unless you have a written employment contract preventing termination for that reason; without a contract, you are an employee at will and may be terminated at any time, for any reason whatsoever.
2) But reasonable accommodations have to be made to an employee's religious observances, such as not firing them for an event scheduled during church. The employer could let them not go to the bonding events; or the employer could schedule the events for not church time (and it would not be reasonable or credible to claim that church blocks all weekend hours or time; i.e. the employees couldn't use church as an excuse to never go), in which case, the employees would have to attend or be fired; or if the events are all day or weekend long, the employer could let the employees leave for church, but attend the rest of the time, on pain of being fired.
But if the employer insists on scheduling events during church and not letting the employees go to church, that would almost certainly be religous based employment discrimination or harassment and the employees could file a complaint with the federal EEOC or their state equal/civil rights agency.


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