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Faith vs. a Full Week of Work

  • September 24, 2021

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I recently started a corporate job and am wondering about how to handle my observance of the Jewish holidays this fall and in the future. This year, I’m using vacation and personal days and taking some unpaid hours. If I am responsible for work each week that can’t be done in advance and if I have a much-shortened week because of an important holiday, can I reasonably ask for some accommodation? Or is it all on me to figure out how to complete the work in less time? Can I ask to work on a federal holiday, like Labor Day, so I won’t be so behind? I’m in a hard spot because my religion is important to me, but I don’t see how in the culture of my current workplace, or perhaps because of the expectations set by my manager, I can do my work and observe the holidays. Do I forgo my religion so I am not out of a job or is my workplace required to meet me halfway?

— Anonymous

Unfortunately, there is no federal law mandating time off for religious holidays. That said, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does say you can’t be treated differently because of your religious background. To that end, your employer does have to provide you “reasonable accommodation,” so long as it doesn’t impair the employer. You can and should ask for accommodations for your religious observance. Approach your manager with a specific plan for the fulfillment of your responsibilities when your faith requires you to take time off. How do you think you can both honor your faith and fulfill your professional responsibilities? Is there a colleague with whom you can share your workload during the holidays? Can you work longer hours on the days around the time you take off for religious observance? When sharing your plan, make it clear you’re open to feedback and also make sure, looking ahead to next year, that you give plenty of notice for whatever plans you make to be put in place. I hope your manger is receptive to this conversation. You should not have to choose between your faith and making a living.

Last year, my husband and I moved to our long-planned retirement city. We both left behind very fulfilling careers. My husband is now fully retired while I chose to continue to work. At 62 years old, I knew I didn’t want what to be the boss any longer and I was grateful to find employment doing similar work I’d previously done but with far less responsibility. I’m surprised by how hard it is to make this adjustment. Since I’m in a new community, I don’t have the same credibility and network I had in my past 20-year career. I keep reminding myself that this is what I wanted, but I still feel diminished at times. Can you suggest any resources that can help me get on with this next phase of my life?

— Anonymous, Arizona

Adjusting to a change in professional standing can be overwhelming. After a career of leading, you are figuring out how to follow, while holding your head high. And you should. Please, be more generous with yourself. This is a major life change. It will take time to adjust and get to know who you are becoming. Perhaps reframe how you’re thinking about this. You are not at all diminished. You were so accomplished and secure in yourself that you could take a step back. You’re now prioritizing other aspects of your life which, at 62, makes perfect sense. After a lifetime of working hard and pursuing a successful career, you can spend more time figuring out who you are beyond your professional identity. You have the benefits of a job — income, health insurance, a way to occupy your time — without the intensity and pressure of being the boss. I hope, in time, you can recognize this opportunity as a blessing and embrace the possibilities of your future.

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