Getting Paid Holidays Means Planning First, Celebrating Later

On the one hand, "the only requirement that a religious belief be accommodated is that it be sincerely held," said Denise Wheeler, an employment attorney with the law firm Fowler White Boggs Banker in Fort Myers, Fla.

On the other, Wheeler said, to deny your request for religious time off, "All the employer has to show is that they can't provide the accommodation without undue hardship," meaning lost profits, efficiency or employee morale.

Shoshana Cenker, a former TV news writer and producer in Atlanta, learned this the hard way. An Orthodox Jew, she told the hiring manager at the 24/7 news station courting her that she needed certain Jewish holidays off throughout the year, as well as sundown Friday through sundown Saturday each week for the Jewish Sabbath.

"I was told, 'Of course they understood, and it would be no problem,' and they hired me," Cenker said. However, "Things quickly changed when a different manager began doing the schedule."

Although Cenker only worked part time and was happy to work any and all hours that didn't conflict with her religious worship -- even if it meant coming in at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night -- her scheduling needs didn't sit well with her new manager.

"I feared for my job every time I put in a request for days off for Jewish holidays," Cenker said. "And every time my boss made the schedule, she did not pay close enough attention to when I could and could not work, or didn't care and ended up scheduling me to work during a holiday. I ended up leaving that news station to work in PR at a Jewish day school."

Wheeler's advice? Lay any extended needs for religious time off on the table during the interview process as Cenker did. If the employer smiles sweetly and says, "Sure, no problem," do your best to get those provisions in writing.

In Praise of Floating Holidays

For all these reasons, I'm a big fan of the floating holiday concept -- letting workers pick which paid holidays they'd like off rather than mandating that everyone vacate the premises the last week of December.

According to the 2008 benefits survey the Society for Human Resource Management conducted of its members, I'm not the only one: Forty-five percent of employers offer their employees floating holidays (other than personal days), up from 34 percent in 2004.

Yvonne Huang, from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., worked at such a company before striking out on her own as a small business owner.

"In addition to the major holidays, each employee was allowed to take off the [paid] holidays related to their personal religion or ethnicity," Huang said of the 15-person law firm where she previously worked as a legal assistant.

"Since I'm Chinese, I was allowed to take Chinese New Year," she explained. "If we wanted to take off any other religious holidays, we had to pay [the boss] $5.00. It was sort of a funny joke, but it was a real and legitimate 'offer' that our boss allowed us to partake in if we wanted. It could only happen in a small office."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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