A reader writes:
I am the tech supervisor for a pharmacy. I am responsible for completing the monthly tech schedule. I also work only on weekends and Monday evenings.
Today, I told my boss that I was going to try and find coverage because I wanted to spend my daughter’s first Easter with her. He told me that if I could find coverage then it was fine, but he then said, “We have to have coverage, so if it is between Easter and work, which one is it going to be?” I did not answer the question and just looked at him.
In previous situations where an employee requested a day off and nobody would volunteer to cover, my boss would step in a talk to some of the employees and get the day covered. I would like for him to do the same for me for Easter, seeing as how I worked Easter last year, thinking I wouldn’t have to work it this year. But, my boss seems to think that Easter is not a true holiday and like it is not going to be a big deal if I do not find coverage.
I know that most people don’t make a big deal out of Easter, but my family does, and spending it with my family is VERY important.
So, if I do not find volunteer coverage, how do I politely tell my boss that I would like for him to talk to some of the employees and push for coverage for me? How do I politely convey to him that the answer to the question he asked me (Easter or work) is Easter with my daughter and family? Do you feel it was inappropriate of him to ask me that question? I was kind of offended and shocked when he asked me that. Should I say something? How do I approach this whole thing?
I wrote back to this reader and asked who the other techs report to. She replied, “I am their trainer and conduct their evaluations. I also manage them as far as minor/moderate personnel and performance issues go, but ultimately, they report to him. He is the director. I cannot demand that they work Easter and them have to do it.”
Federal law requires that employers “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious practices, unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the business. In a situation where an employee wants to take off a religious holiday and other employees can easily be scheduled to work that day, allowing you to take off Easter would fall under the “reasonable accommodation” portion of the law, assuming that you’re asking for the day off for reasons of religious practice.
Your boss is likely not even thinking of the law. He may not even be thinking of Easter as a religious holiday. Your job, then, is to point this out to him without coming across as overly aggressive or litigious. I would start out without getting into the law at all and would escalate only if it becomes necessary. First, I’d say something like this: “We talked recently about Easter and you asked me to pick between Easter and work. Generally work comes first for me, which I think you know, but in this case we are talking about my religion. Easter is a religious holiday for me, and I know there are many employees who don’t feel their religious practice requires them to observe it. I’d like to ask that we schedule them on Easter. In the past, you’ve asked people to work on days that someone else wanted off. Can you do the same here?”
If he refuses, then I’d say: “I think we’re actually required by federal law to make those sorts of accommodations for employees’ religious practices.” Note that use of “we” rather than “you.” The tone here is that you’re making a helpful, neutral observation about the law, and you are looking out for the store, not making a legal threat — say it the same way you’d say it if you were talking about another employee’s request. You do not want to sound like you’re hinting at any legal action. (You have the right to sound like that, of course, but it’s rarely good for your career.)
If he still refuses, you have a decision to make about how far you want to push this. If you want to push, I’d then say, “I hate having to frame it this way, but there’s actually a law about this. I think you know I’m not the legal action type, but we’re talking about what’s required by law.”
Now, some people will disagree with me about that “I’m not the legal action type” disclaimer, arguing that employees should assert their legal rights more forthrightly. And you’re absolutely entitled by law to do so — but your goal here is not just to assert the law but also to keep a good relationship with your employer. It is possible to do both, but not if you wield the law like a weapon. Fair or not, the reality is that few relationships are unaffected when legal threats are made. There are times when an employee may have no other choice, but when the question is “what is the best way to handle this in order to maximize my chances of a good outcome?” and not “what am I legally entitled to do?” then outright threats should be a last resort.
The law, by the way, is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.