Dealing with missing work for the Jewish holidays

By | August 31, 2007

Someone recently asked this on a mailing list I’m on:

I am once again faced with the situation of having to take my vacation days for the Jewish High Holidays. Instead of passively standing by, I plan to take this issue up with my company and human resources department, as I am tired of corporate America assuming everyone is of a Christian faith. I am looking for some advice on how to handle this situation, if anyone has dealt with this before and would not mind sharing that would be greatly appreciated.

I think my response is worth blogging:

The best indicator of whether you are likely to come out of this with a reasonable arrangement with your company is your attitude going into it. If the people with whom you discuss this feel like you understand their side of the issue and are just trying to come to an agreement which will be acceptable to both sides, they will be much more cooperative than if you’re all up in their faces about how corporate America is unfair to Jews. Whether or not you believe that is not the point; the point is that it is not a basis for discussion that is likely to yield the result you want.

Your company has a legal obligation to make it possible for you to observe the Jewish holidays, but they’re under no obligation to make it easy. If you are lucky enough to work for a particularly enlightened manager or company, one that understands that you will be a better, more productive employee if you aren’t stressed about missing work for the holidays, then they will find a way to make it easier (for example, the best manager I’ve ever had offered me five extra days of vacation per year, off the books, for Jewish holidays). However, offers for accommodations that will cost the company money need to come from the company, rather than being demanded by you.

You should go into the discussion with a proposal for reasonable accommodations you would like the company to make, using some combination of the following approaches:

  • Borrow against vacation to be accrued later.
  • Work on some company holidays, in exchange for compensatory time off for the Jewish holidays. I love working on Christmas day – the office is completely quiet, and with no interruptions I get a huge amount of work done. I also frequently work on Memorial Day and Labor Day.
  • Work extra hours at night or on Sundays in exchange for compensatory time off for the Jewish holidays.
  • Take unpaid leave for some of the holidays.
  • Take a reduction in pay in exchange for more annual vacation days.
  • During the next compensation adjustment period, ask for extra vacation days in lieu of part of the raise you are offered.

When presenting your proposal, you need to make it clear that you understand that the company is entitled to a certain level of productivity, and you are looking for a way to maintain that productivity level while still allowing you to observe your religion. It’s important that the people with whom you discuss this don’t get the impression that you’re trying to take advantage of the company.

If you work a lot of extra hours already, and if you’ve got a smart manager who knows that, then your manager will almost certainly offer to let you take off some of the holidays off the books. However, in a year like this one, when there are 12 Yomim Tovim on weekdays, any manager is going to be hard-pressed to justify letting you take off all of the holidays without any sort of make-up. Next year isn’t much better, with 10 missed days, but 2009 has only 6, which just about as good as it gets.

Which of these approaches you use, and in what combination, depends on your personal preferences and on what your company is willing to accommodate. Use your best judgment to decide on the initial proposal you present when entering the discussion, and be prepared to adjust your proposal based on the feedback you receive.

If you have a good working relationship with your manager, you should discuss the issue privately with him/her first, rather than going directly to HR. if you don’t have a good working relationship with your manager, then find a different job where you do. That sounds flippant, but I’m serious. If you’ve got a good manager with whom you get along well, it will be easy for the two of you to come to an understanding. If you don’t, it’ll be difficult to impossible. The job market is hot right now, so if this is a serious quality of life issue for you, you shouldn’t be adverse to the idea of finding a job where it won’t be a problem.

Finally, keep in mind that there is still ignorance, intolerance and outright anti-Semitism out there, and you may bump into it when you start down this path. I’ve had to transfer out from under at least one manager because of this. Be aware that the end result of asking for special accommodations because of your religion may be that you end up finding it necessary to switch managers or switch jobs. It’s not fair and perhaps not even legal, but that’s life.

Take a look at You may find it useful in this endeavor.

Good luck!

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5 thoughts on “Dealing with missing work for the Jewish holidays

  1. abbasegal

    One other approach — negotiate it at hiring time.

    At my last job as an employee, I negotiated Jewish holidays off (paid) when I was hired. (Extra time off is something which is pretty easy for a company to grant, especially at hiring time, and especially for a salaried employee who is likely to be working lots of “extra hours” in any case — intelligent companies will know that it really costs them nothing to grant this).

    Presumably, a religious Christian who routinely wanted to take off days like Ash Wednesday could do this as well. (In my case at that company, Good Friday was already a company holiday…)

  2. HeSpammedMe2

    I wouldn’t mind if all companies were required to give EVERYONE Jewish holidays off too. That would be awesome!

  3. Scott Nelson

    Hey, the person who complained about Jewish holidays not being recognised at work should move to the Metro-New York area. Around here, the unfair situation is that Jewish employees get all the usual holidays PLUS the Jewish holidays – even if they are not particularly religious. However marginally observant you are, if that is your heritage, you get to “call in Jewish.” However, a Christian worker who wants to take Ash Wednesday or similar holy day off will have to use a vacation day. And unless you are high up in the office hierarchy, you will likely be required to hold down the office for a few days in that stretch between Christmas and New Years, while others are off for the holidays.


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