Dear Miriam | Unequal Holiday Policy Poses Problems

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Dear Miriam,

I take off work for all the Jewish holidays where one isn’t allowed to work. My manager has told me I can take them using personal time. This means it’s paid time off without cutting into my vacation time. There isn’t an official company policy on days off for religious reasons.

One of my colleagues is an observant Muslim woman. She asked her manager about taking off for Eid and was told to use her vacation time. I want to stand up for her and make sure she gets to take her holidays off using personal time, just like me. How can I do that with the least risk of losing my own sweet deal?


Holiday Equality


Dear Equality,

The (obvious) problem with your company having no official policy about religious holidays is that there’s no consistent way to ensure fairness. Of course you don’t want to lose your arrangement — and you shouldn’t — but your arrangement, when applied only to you, creates a differentiation that neither you, nor any of your colleagues, should be comfortable with.

You should equip your Muslim colleague with as much background information as possible. Tell her how your arrangement got set up, who you talked to and how long it’s existed. Encourage her to take this information back to her manager. If she approaches this conversation with an attitude of correcting a misunderstanding, her manager may have no problem following the precedent you’ve established.

If this plan doesn’t go as I, and you, hope it will, then you should reach out to your manager directly. Explain the situation, express gratitude for the way you’ve been allowed to take leave and ask your manager to help extend this arrangement to your colleague for Eid, as well as anyone else who needs to take off work for holidays when the company is otherwise open.

If that still doesn’t get the right result, your next step after that should be HR, expressing your concern for the inconsistencies and asking for the review of current practices as well as a company-wide policy regarding religious days off. Your current situation clearly respects employees more than what’s being offered to your Muslim colleague, and HR should hear about that distinction from both you and your colleague.

Unfortunately, my advice doesn’t provide any guarantee that the result of your advocacy will be that you keep your own sweet deal. Further, if for some deeply flawed and likely prejudiced reason, you are allowed to keep using personal time while your colleague is only permitted to use vacation time, then your own ethical option is to tell your manager, your HR department and anyone else who will listen that unless everyone can use personal time for holidays, you won’t be using personal time either.

However, before you run away screaming from advice that clearly ignores your end goal, I’ll add two other points: One, before doing any of this, ask your Muslim colleague if your plans for approaching managers and HR makes sense to her and if she’d like to be involved in the discussions and/or for you to advocate on her behalf. And two, since the Jewish holidays could add up to more than two weeks of work, your need for an arrangement that avoids using your vacation time is arguably different than someone who needs to take off one or two days all year. You’ll need to weigh all these issues when deciding how to move forward, and I hope it works out in a way that benefits everyone.

Be well,



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