What’s the Deal with PTO and Jewish Holidays?

Jewish holiday
If you’re a Jewish employee and you’re an active observer of high holy days, the Sabbath, or both, you may need to clarify this with your supervisor or HR department as you begin your new job. Some employers make their PTO (paid time off) policies clear upfront and will include every rule and every exception in a written handbook that will be presented on or near your start date. But plenty of employers prefer to work an element of flexibility into their policies and are open to case-by-case negotiation from individual employees if the need arises.Regardless, don’t expect your employer to anticipate your absence or to pay you for the time you spend observing a Jewish holiday; you’ll need to be the one to bring up the subject in a tactful and timely manner and to negotiate pay.

Holy Days on the Calendar

This year (Hebrew Year 5776), the major remaining holidays will be taking place as follows:
  • Rosh Hashanah: sunset September 13 – nightfall September 15
  • Yom Kippur: sunset September 22 – nightfall September 23
  • Sukkot: September 27 to October 4
  • Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah: sunset October 4 – nightfall October 6
  • Chanukah: sunset December 6 – nightfall December 14

Soon After You’re Hired

According to federal law, your employer will be obligated to make reasonable accommodations that allow you to leave the workplace when your work schedule conflicts with your faith (more on this later). But it’s much easier for an employer to make these accommodations if you open this discussion and share both your faith and your PTO needs as early as possible. You don’t need to reveal your faith during your interview and application process (and you really shouldn’t do this, since your faith should play no role in your employer’s hiring decision). But once you’re hired, making your religious obligations clear will help your employer to help you. Explain far in advance that you’ll need to be absent on the days listed above. And if you have Sabbath obligations as well, break this news at the same time.

Employer Obligations

A growing number of professional employers have made the transition from an excuse-based attendance policy to one based on straightforward PTO. In other words, sick days and personal days are now being grouped into a single category of no-questions-asked Personal Time Off. If you request permission to leave the office for religious reasons, your employer may simply log this absence as part of your designated PTO and leave it at that. That said, they’re also not obligated by law to pay you for this time away.Additionally, some employers face tight deadlines, demanding clients, and busy seasons that conflict with religious holidays. And in this case, your boss may be reluctant to let you go. So know your rights. If you’re denied absence, your employer will need to prove that your absence from the workplace represents a “significant hardship” for the company. Employers are also obligated to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees to practice their faiths.As it happens, the word “hardship” and the word “reasonable” still have no clear legal definitions. If you’re adamant about leaving and your employer adamantly refuses, you may need to take legal action, which can be time consuming and expensive.To prevent a tangle of misunderstandings, resentment, and possible damage to your relationship with your employer far before an expensive lawsuit becomes necessary, talk to your HR department and work out these issues before the holy days arrive. Do your part to keep both yourself and your boss from being caught off guard, disappointed, or significantly put out by the other side’s refusal to let go of the day.And of course, if your employer has no intention of letting you leave during the holy days, and you don’t have the wherewithal to protect your rights in court, you’ll need to know this sooner rather than later. If this company isn’t the right one for you, recognize this fact before an unresolvable conflict stands between you and your practice (or your livelihood).—For more on how to protect yourself from discrimination, poor treatment, or serious religious conflicts in your workplace, stay informed. Visit MyPerfectResume for more articles about the modern workplace.