How to ask time off for the High Holidays

Laws vary, but in general employers need to make "reasonable accommodations" for their employees to take time off for religious holidays.
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September is a tough month this year for taking time off for the High Holidays. With Labor Day on the 6th and Rosh Hashanah immediately following there are eight holiday days this month that do not fall on a weekend.

Public colleges and universities are legally mandated to make religious accommodations for students, private schools however do not have the same protections. In most cases an email or conversation with your teacher or professor should be enough. Remember the law states that public institutions cannot penalize you for asking for a religious holiday off, so that means your absence is excused. If a problem should arise, you can reach out to your school’s Jewish life office for help. If your school does not have a Jewish life office (or a Hillel/Chabad house), a conversation with your school’s registrar’s office may be needed. Come prepared with a letter from a rabbi explaining the dates that you are taking off.

In general employers need to make “reasonable accommodations” for their employees that don’t impose an “undue hardship” upon the employer. With that said, it can be easier said than done, and laws vary by country and state. For example, in the United States “reasonable accommodation” means employers cannot deny you the ability to take religious holidays off but they can ask you to use your vacation time, sick time, or even take unpaid leave. Also, if you work at a place with less than 15 people the law states that your employer does not have to give you a reasonable accommodation due to it creating an “undue hardship.”

If you find yourself low on vacation days there may be other options available to you, including:

  1. Ask for comp time for volunteering to work on other holidays (like Christmas and Good Friday).
  2. Check your company’s floating holiday policy, many jobs now come with additional holidays that you can take off during the year.
  3. See if you can substitute unused sick days for days off.
  4. Ask if you can swap a day off for an extra work day.
  5. See if your employer has a “flex time” policy which allows you to work extra hours in the pay period the holiday falls on so you don’t have to use vacation time.

What to do if your employer refuses to give you time off

In most cases an employer cannot deny you the right to take a religious holiday off. In some situations a denial happens due to a manager being unaware of the law and the situation can be quickly settled after speaking with your HR department, in other situations you may need to seek extra help:

  • Ask a rabbi to write a letter on their synagogue’s stationary explaining the dates that the High Holidays fall on.
  • Depending on the city you live in, reach out to your local JCRC or ADL chapter. They have resources to help point you in the right direction for additional help.

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