Religious Holiday Leave

Can Pagans take paid leave for religious holidays?

The short answer is, probably not. Whilst the celebration of religious holidays by members of any and all religions (including Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft) is entirely legal and protected under the Constitution, employers are not legally obligated to allow employees ‘paid leave’ for religious holidays, unless they fall within an existing public holiday period.

Basic Conditions of Employment Act

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act entitles an employee to 15 working days “21 consecutive days” paid leave per year. Public Holidays which fall within a period of annual leave “are additional to the annual leave entitlement”. Annual leave can be taken at any time provided it is first agreed with the employer. An employer may refuse an application for leave it if is not suitable at that time for an employee to take leave. [1]

“South Africa recognises 13 public holidays every year. Only two of these, Christmas Day and Good Friday, are Christian religious holidays and must be granted to all employees, regardless of their religion… [ ] …An employee isn’t entitled to take paid religious leave for holidays other than the recognised public holidays. However, it would be unfair if you unreasonably didn’t allow employees of other religions to take annual or unpaid leave to observe their religious festivals.” [2]

What to do?

A company’s leave policy may not discriminate against employees on religious grounds. [3] SAPRA encourages Pagans who wish for instance to take all eight Wiccan holidays as either a part of their annual paid leave, or as additional unpaid leave, to approach their employers with their request. Do not expect your employer to know anything about your faith or that there are eight Wiccan holidays, so think ahead and plan to provide your employer with enough information about your chosen faith before you meet to discuss possible religious leave. A good primer for non-Pagans on Paganism in South Africa and the Eight Wiccan holidays may be downloaded from the website of the South African Pagan Council. [see resource below – 4.]

The Facts: paid leave and public holidays

According to section 18 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act,
Employees must receive paid leave for any public holiday that falls on a working day,
b) Employees must agree to work on public holidays and are entitled to receive additional pay for working on a public holiday,
c) A public holiday may not be counted as part of annual leave, and
d) A public holiday may be exchanged for another day by agreement with the employer. [5]

But is it fair?

In 2013 the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Right of Culture, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) recommended that Family Day, Boxing Day and the Day of Reconciliation be removed from the Public Holiday Act, in an attempt to appease non-Christians. This recommendation found little support from both Christians and non-Christians alike. Christmas remains a Christian religious holiday on the Public Holiday calendar. SAPRA has argued that this sole inclusion effectively promotes one single faith by the State, whilst excluding similar or equal promotion of all other faiths, in a multi-faith democracy. SAPRA has argued that accommodating all faiths in the Public Holiday Act would be economically unfeasible, and has recommended that 1) all religious holidays be removed from what ought to remain a secular calendar of public holidays, and 2) employers be legally bound to consider offering paid leave to employees for religious holidays.


[1] André Claassen – ‘Types of Leave’

[2] What does the law say about the religious holidays you have to grant your employees?

[3] Karin Iten – ‘Three ways to deal with your employee’s religious leave requests.’

[4] Paganism in South Africa
An Introduction to the Pagan Religion in South 
Author(s): B. Katzke, M. Fonteleve, D. Leff
Published: 2013 (Revised 2015)



SAPRA ‘Your Rights’ Resource

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