As entrepreneurs grow their companies, maintaining a positive work atmosphere and boosting employee morale is a must. Doing so may involve recognizing an employee’s need to take time off for religious reasons — in fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires all employers to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of both applicants and employees. This is mandated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on religion.
For company founders running small or large teams, it’s important to understand that all employees have a life outside of work and may have obligations that interfere with the standard scheduled work week. Since non-Christian holidays are often not paid time off days, many Jewish employees will be requesting time off for Hanukkah celebrations, Passover, and Yom Kippur and are available during Christian holidays.
My Jewish faith and heritage is a big part of my identity, so I’ve always been grateful to have the ability to observe holidays on my own time. Now that I’ve built a successful business of my own, I make sure that I recognize the needs of associates and encourage other entrepreneurs to do the same.
Here are some ways I recommend that entrepreneurs accommodate for religious holidays in the workplace:
Provide Flexible Scheduling Options
While many Christians go to church on Sunday, some employees may need to leave work earlier during a weekday to attend services at a synagogue or other place of worship.
In an entrepreneurial environment, you have the opportunity to build a flexible culture. Still, many startups are by nature of the venture quite demanding. Whatever stage your company is at, you can work to provide flexible scheduling options.
Consider giving these employees the flexibility to make those days a little shorter and make up the time on another day so they can take care of their personal commitments without any stress. You can have employees request scheduling changes several weeks ahead of time or on a monthly basis to coordinate projects or delegate tasks if needed.
Coordinate a Holiday Party
Even if you practice a different religion, you can show respect for associates who are observing a religious holiday by sponsoring a holiday party around the celebration; for example, I celebrate Jewish holidays, this has not kept me from respecting and even celebrating the holidays of my teammates.
Whether it’s Hanukkah or Passover, there’s no rule that you need to host only a Christmas party during the holiday season for your team. If your company has the ability, it can work with human resources to organize holiday events and celebrations that honor all religious beliefs.
Keep Communication Lines Open
Accommodating religious requests is not the same as excusing work responsibilities. If employees are working non-standard working hours, they should make up time for time they take off — the same goes for those who are taking partial days while working on a big project with other team members. This requires great communication.
These employees need to have a point of contact when they are not able to get in touch with their immediate supervisor during non-business hours and may need to be open to receiving work-related emails and phone calls when they take time off during a standard work day.
Make sure to set expectations and keep the lines of communication open so everybody stays on track and there is less room for mistakes during a team member’s absence.
Set Expectations on Requests for Time Off
Make sure employees are clear on when they can request time off for religious reasons or otherwise. You may need to review requests at least three or even four weeks in advance to accommodate for all your scheduling needs, depending on your industry and business. Young startups with smaller teams will need to be especially diligent in this regard.
Let employees know you are more than happy providing time off for religious holiday celebrations but need to know what days they need off at least a few weeks in advance. This ensures they know they can take time off for religious purposes as long as they follow company policy.
Be Prepared for Conflicts
No matter how organized you are and how well you schedule everybody’s time off requests, you may run into some scheduling conflicts where some employees are not granted the time off requested. You need to be well-prepared for these situations and be careful that you are not violating any laws that require you to accommodate for employees who are requesting modifications to their schedule for religious reasons.
Again, clear communication is key and you can take steps to offer alternative days off if you were unable to accommodate an associate’s request. Allowing everybody to have the time off they need at the same time when you are already short-staffed may not be feasible so both employees and employers need to be prepared for that.
Anything entrepreneurs can do to honor an employee’s requests for time off or schedule changes for religious reasons will help the organization as a whole. For me, having the space to practice religion has helped shape my professional identity in a way that compliments my personal one. We are all multi-faceted humans with varying beliefs — when entrepreneurs are open and accommodating to these differences, it makes us all stronger.