can I talk to my boss about how she’s treating my coworker, interview exercises, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Can I talk to my boss about how she’s treating my coworker?

A colleague of mine — let’s call her Sarah — just got promoted to the level of supervisor, moving above myself and two other colleagues. This was a bit of a surprise to us all. Sarah hasn’t had any management experience, and she’s clearly trying to feel out her role. We all used to be very good friends when we were at the same level, but now that she’s a supervisor, she’s doing her best to be an appropriate and respectable authority. I’m not new to a change like this, so I’m trying to give her the gravitas she seems to crave at the moment.

However, one of the people still at my level — let’s call her Heather — is really struggling. She is relatively new to our office and for most of her time here, she and Sarah have been good friends, and now the power dynamic has changed. Additionally, Sarah is coming down hard on Heather. I’m not privy to their conversations, but it’s very clear that Heather is just not doing anything right by Sarah, and Sarah is hounding Heather about every finite detail of her work. It’s really creating animosity in the office.

Is there any way to speak to Sarah about this? I value Sarah’s work and her effort — she does a good job, and she deserved to get this position. But by puffing her chest and trying to establish herself as an authority, her subordinates (me included) are losing faith in her actions. Is there a way to speak with Sarah, on the level, and let her know that she needs to find a new approach?

Well … it’s actually possible that there are real problems with Heather’s work, and that Sarah’s oversight and feedback to her is appropriate. That’s something you wouldn’t necessarily know.

But it’s also true that it’s common for new managers to struggle with authority and be either too lenient or too hard on people. Of course, talking about that might not go well with someone who’s already getting hung up on “I’m now the boss and demand respect.”

But if you have pretty good rapport with Sarah, you might be able to frame it not as “hey, you’re being too hard on Heather” (because you don’t actually know that) but as “this is being perceived in a way that’s freaking people out.” For instance: “I’m glad you got this promotion; you deserved it. I want to let you know that I’m getting the sense the team is starting to worry about what’s going on with you and Heather because it seems like you’re coming down really hard on her. I know we don’t know everything that’s going on, but the pieces that we can see are making people worry that you’re being too harsh. I’m not suggesting that you need to change that; for all I know, it could be perfectly warranted and that’s not information I would be privy to. But I wanted you to know how it’s being perceived, in case you didn’t intend that or don’t want that.”

When you say this, your tone shouldn’t be “you need to change this.” You want it to convey “I respect you and this is your call; I’m just giving you information that might be helpful to you.”

2. Were these interview exercises unreasonable?

At what point do exercises or activities given during an interview process become training? During an interview process, I was given three exercises total (in addition to three phone interviews and one in-person interview).

The first two exercises were given with the explanation that this would help me determine my ability to complete the job. So far, all good. During the in-person interview, we reviewed my answers to the exercises and I was given input on how I could have completed them better. This would have been fine, except I then had to incorporate that feedback right then and there so they could review and provide additional feedback. To me, that’s training.

A few days after the in-person interview, they emailed saying there was another exercise they’d want me to complete. This exercise seemed like actual work that needed to be done. I felt like I was being used as free labor. Total, I’d say the three exercises took around three hours to complete — I think I work at a normal pace. (Not to mention that the first two exercises were sent with a timeline that would require me to complete over a long weekend.)

So I ask – at what point are interview exercises really just unpaid work/training in disguise? Would you say the amount of exercises were acceptable? Is this normal hiring practice (for NGO’s or in general)? For the record, I have a similar title to the one I was applying for although in a different department, and have two years of full-time work experience.

Employers are increasingly using exercises to evaluate candidates, and — assuming the exercises are well-thought out and considerate of candidates’ time — that’s a good thing. It’s much easier to hire the right person when you actually see candidates in action (as opposed to just asking them about their work). It’s good for candidates too; it means you’re more likely to stand out for the jobs you’re well-matched with and less likely to end up in one where you struggle.

But there are definitely employers who do it badly. It’s hard to say if yours were reasonable without knowing what the job was, exactly what the exercises were, and if they’re being used solely to evaluate you or for something more than that. In general, if they’re just using the exercises to evaluate your candidacy (as opposed to actually using what you produce), that’s not free work. It could still be an unreasonable request, though, depending on how much time they want you to invest. Three one-hour exercises spread out over four conversations is borderline; it’s approaching too much, but it’s not solidly in “this is an outrage” category. Asking you for another one at this point, though, would be pushing it.

The part about asking you to incorporate their feedback doesn’t worry me. That can make a lot of sense to do because often a candidate will produce, say, a writing exercise that isn’t quite what the employer is looking for — but might be able to nail it with three minutes of feedback. There’s real value in seeing how/whether someone incorporates feedback into their work. That’s not training; that’s still part of assessing you. (I’d answer differently if they gave you two hours of coaching, but it doesn’t sound like that.)

3. Should I have to use vacation time for a religious holiday?

I’m Jewish, but no one else in the company I work for is. This Thursday is the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashana, and services are at 9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., then traditional luncheon is always hosted by my parents at their home right after.

I approached HR this morning asking if I’m able to take off this Thursday in observance of my Jewish holiday and they said, “It’s not a holiday for the company as a whole, it’s only your holiday. So therefore, you can use a PTO day of yours to take it off.”

Umm… well Christmas is not my holiday but we’re automatically off without taking PTO for that day? So can she really say that to me? Also, is it right that I’m forced to use a PTO day for it?

It’s not a great practice — smart employers don’t make employees take PTO for major religious holidays — but it’s legal and pretty common. If she was saying you couldn’t take the day off at all, you’d be able to formally ask for religious accommodation (and would have the law backing you up unless your employer could show that giving you the day off would cause undue hardship). But they’re letting you take it, just saying you need to use PTO. It’s annoying and they’d do well to rethink the policy, but they can indeed say this.

That said, if that’s the actual wording that HR used, that sounds particularly rude. If this is something you feel strongly about, one option would be to push back on the policy for next year (or for Yom Kippur in a couple of weeks) and in that context mention that the particular response you got was worded in a bizarrely rude way for a company that presumably wants to encourage inclusivity and diversity on its staff.

4. What do I say to networking contacts who I don’t have much connection with?

I was fortunate enough to unintentionally do some informal networking on Twitter, and got referrals for a couple of people to reach out to on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m really qualified to work for/with either of them, based on my having some very non-specific experience that some people seem to assume is more relevant than it is (i.e., you were an English major years ago, you can do copywriting easily!) I hate to let potential connections go to waste, or disregard someone who has been generous enough to try to help me network despite having a very tenuous connection. But I also hate to show up on someone’s doorstep with no real qualifications like I expect a huge favor just because I was referred by someone they know.

The only thing I can think of to do is to InMail them on LinkedIn acknowledging that I don’t think I’m currently qualified to work with them and ask whether they had a minute to share what steps I might take in order to BE qualified. Would that be okay? Is there a better way to make use of the connections without sounding ridiculous or presumptuous?

Is that stuff you genuinely want to know and would be excited to connect about? And is there no other obvious way of getting that information? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then yeah, you can do that. But if the answer to either question is no and you’d just be asking those things because you feel like you should make use of the connection somehow, don’t do that — that will probably show and it will be annoying to the contacts. In that case, I’d spend more time thinking about what exactly you really want from these people (and can realistically expect). It’s okay if it’s just “Jane Warbleworth suggested I contact you because X. I realize that my background isn’t quite what you’re looking for for the roles you hire for, but I’d love to connect on LinkedIn since I’m hoping to do Y in the future.” (Note that’s not asking them for their time; don’t ask for that unless you can clearly explain why you want it.)

Also, sometimes contacts refer you to people who just aren’t going to make sense for you to network with. It’s okay to decide that happened here, if that’s actually the case. (If that’s true, and if the person who referred you is more than a casual Twitter acquaintance, go back and explain that so they’re not wondering why you never acted on their suggestion. That will also give them the opening to say, “No, actually, I was thinking she’d be a great person to do X for you,” and maybe X is something you hadn’t thought about.)

5. Employer wants list of questions answered in cover letter

When recently applying for a job, I came across something I don’t think I’ve encountered before: requirements for the cover letter. In this case, it was a list of seven questions they wanted answered. I’m sure this isn’t uncommon, but I was stumped about the way to go about answering the questions: do I fold each answer into the body of the letter, or do I answer each question point by point in list form? Which would you prefer to see? I ended up working them into the letter and trying to weave them into my spiel, but I’ve been doubting myself ever since. These questions were rather complex, and after answering them, it left little space on the page to write anything else about myself. What do you think?

I think either way is fine. There’s a slight argument for making them really clear numbered points (although still in the body of your letter) so that they can see clearly and immediately that you definitely answered everything, but really, either way should be fine.

{ 464 comments… read them below }

  1. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – I’d call them out separately. Some people are really bad at reading comprehension. Listing each question separately clarifies things.

    1. Em Too*

      Yeh. My suspicion would be that that sort of request goes along with a large number of applications and a fairly structured decision process, and making the hiring managers’ lives easier is a good thing.

      1. Breda*

        When hiring for interns/assistants, I usually ask a specific question in the post. Part of the reason I do this is to see how well they follow directions – I can immediately dismiss the applications that come in without an answer. That specific quality is less important in higher positions, but yeah, I’m in favor of making it as clear that you answered them all as possible.

    2. minuteye*

      If they were general or straightforward questions (e.g. “what makes you a strong candidate?”) I’d say fold them into the body of the letter, since they’re likely just intended to push candidates to write an informative cover letter.

      Since they’re apparently quite complex in this case, they’re probably things the employer will be looking for specifically in each cover letter (i.e. we need to know X about a candidate before we even think about calling them in). In that case, don’t make the reader search for them, use point form.

    3. CM*

      I think listing the answers would be ideal so it’s clear that you answered all of them, but since OP#5 already sent in their letter, I think folding them in is OK too. I bet a lot of applicants won’t even answer all the questions, so OP#5 is probably already ahead.

  2. Casper Lives*

    #3 I commiserate. I’m also Jewish, and have never been in a Jewish-majority school or workplace. That means I took the days and was counted absent through school, had my religious holidays count toward my limited law school absences (with the exception of one Jewish professor who cancelled class on those days, it was novel!), and used PTO or unpaid for jobs. I used to feel frustrated and isolated to see everyone get Christmas and maybe a few days around it off like clockwork without using PTO. What’s helped me, personally, is acknowledging that that’s the reality of being in the minority.

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      Christmas – and a couple of surrounding days, if your company chooses – is, right or wrong, based on Christmas being a Federal holiday, and the reality of the fact that the majority of the office would take off a couple days anyways so it may not make sense to remain open. Most offices I’ve worked in also give off the Friday after Thanksgiving, or the Monday of a Tuesday 4th of July for the same reasons.

      And yes, as the religious (or areligious, in my case) minority, it can be frustrating. Even different sects of Christianity (Orthodox, for example, who celebrate Christmas in January) have to deal with being the minority in this case. So I’m all on board with “acknowledging that that’s the reality of being in the minority.”

      1. Jesca*

        Being Jewish, I concur. It sucks, but it is what it is. At least at my job, everyone as a whole (all 300+ employees lol) all leave by 2:30 on Fridays!

      2. sunny-dee*

        My company has international offices, so religious and national holidays are defined by the country of origin (Jewish holidays in Israel, Hindu holidays in India, Christian holidays in the US and Europe). But everyone gets 3 “floating” holidays that they can use, so if you’re Jewish in the US, you can apply those to any religious observances. Those are separate from normal PTO (which accrues and you can cash out when you leave).

        1. fposte*

          Yes, we have two floating holidays, and it wasn’t until reading AAM on this subject that I realized that’s their purpose. I think it’s a good approach.

          1. Lindsay*

            For *some* jobs, it’s also often possible to informally “float” recognized paid holidays onto dates that more closely match your own religious holidays, especially when they’re in the same pay period. For example, a person might ask their boss if, informally, it was okay to work on Labor Day (early September in the US) and use that paid holiday for Rosh Hashanah (later in the same month). This doesn’t make sense for many kinds of jobs, but for lots of computer-based office jobs, an accommodating boss probably wouldn’t object.

            1. Anonynon.*

              With my job, if we have to work on a paid holiday, we get one comp day in exchange that we have to use within three months of the holiday. We also get one paid floating religious holiday per year, so between requesting to work on the 4th of July and Labor Day and the floating holiday, you can manage three days off for high holidays in the fall most of the time.

              It’s better than having to take an unpaid day or use vacation time, but it still sucks, though. Everyone else is off at the beach or a BBQ or otherwise enjoying a long weekend, but Jewish people have to work for the privilege of being able to take off for a religious holiday?

              1. NorthernSoutherner*

                Do you get Christmas off, too? Maybe not to celebrate, but to spend as you wish? I’ve worked with people who go to church on Good Friday and had to use personal days. At least you get a paid floating religious holiday. Plenty of companies don’t even offer that.

          2. Specialk9*

            As a Jewish person, I get annoyed by the Christian focus, but I also get it from a business standpoint.

            I mean, Jews make up only 3% of the population, though we cluster – NYC, DC, Boston, Miami, etc. – and in the clusters we are 5-8% of the population, more so in certain neighborhoods. We’re a loud 3-8%, but still a tiny minority. It’s annoying to be overlooked, but realistically companies don’t recognize Muslim or Hindi religions either, and there are lots more religions out there.

            When I lived in Israel, the official secular holidays were all Jewish holidays. (It was kinda eerie for it to get cold and not hear a single Christmas carol or see any houses edged with lights.) Christmas and Easter were not things that anyone even thought about.

            1. Nonsenical*

              This. I am actually not even taking tomorrow off as I can’t afford to lose anymore PTO days due to health issues.

        2. Anu*

          I would like to gently push back on the notion that one would get “Hindu holidays in India”. As an Indian, one of the things I’m proudest about in terms of the Indian identity, is that India’s constitution explicitly sets out to be secular. One of the ways the founders tried to do that was by making many religious holidays national holidays. As a matter of fact, we got more Christian holidays off (Good Friday and Christmas) when I was living in India then I do in the US (where we only get Christmas). We also got Muslim holidays, Buddhist holidays, Jain holidays etc. – this does make for a lot of holidays but that was not considered to be a bad thing. And it made the entire country aware of each religion’s observances – you remembered to wish your Muslim friends Id Mubarak because you got a holiday on that day too.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I was going to say this, too. There’s this intense misconception about how India works, but it certainly is not restricted to observance of Hinduism and its celebrations. One of my favorite things about pre-Partition culture is that it was very common for communities of different faiths to celebrate one another’s holidays, not as a form of religious observance, but as a form of cultural solidarity. It made for more awareness and better integration, imo, and it’s a helpful example to Americans of how other secular democracies can operate around inclusion.

        3. k.k*

          Our organization includes floating holidays in with PTO (vacation, sick, personal, and floating are all in the same pot, but the number of days reflects that). It actually was a Jewish organization many many years ago, but is now secular, and the only paid holidays are federal holidays.

        4. LizB*

          My organization used to give us floating holidays… and then they changed a bunch of stuff due to the DOL rules that never went into effect, and now I don’t have floating holidays anymore and have to take PTO for Rosh Hashana. The changes that were made are inconvenient and make our work more difficult in a number of other ways, so lots of people are asking if we can change them for various reasons, but the religious holiday aspect is just another minor insult added to injury for me.

          1. Anna*

            Hmmm…I wonder if that’s why the company I work for (DOL contractor) converted our floating holidays to paid holidays (meaning they added two paid holidays to the calendar). To find out the rules never went into effect annoys me if that’s the case.

        5. Portia*

          I’ve never heard of floating holidays, but that sounds like a great system! Can they only be taken on days that are actual holidays for mainstream religions, or could someone use a floating holiday for, say, Talk Like a Pirate Day?

          1. fposte*

            I take my floating holidays as first-line PTO, since they don’t roll over and my vacation time does. I don’t even have to invent a holiday.

            1. Anna*

              Exactly. You can use them however you want, but it’s recommended that if you don’t need them for things like religious observance, you use them before vacation days or PTO.

          2. Beckie*

            My husband gets floating holidays, and has used them for state holidays that he doesn’t get (such as Cesar Chavez Day). He also used one for the day of the eclipse (with the argument that it was a major event, although he didn’t travel to a region with totality), and no one batted an eye.

          3. SusanIvanova*

            Our floating days were described as being for any day of significance, not specifically religious – birthdays were given as an example. Not everyone is religious, after all.

          4. Someone else*

            It seems like this varies in practice. My company has a set of paid holidays, and then we also get one floating holiday that can be used on any of a specific list of acceptable other days. It not just an extra PTO day that can be used whenever. For example, we do not get Good Friday as a paid holiday, but it’s on the list of dates you can use as a floating holiday. I previously wondered about asking to use the floating holiday on Passover instead of GF, since that’s always going to be very close in date, but haven’t tried it yet. There are certain paid holidays that are always paid holidays every year, but there are a handful of other (common holidays on which banks may or may not be open) where one year it’ll be a paid holiday for everyone, and the next it won’t be, but will be in the list that can be used for the floating holiday (and that same year a different one will be a paid holiday that the year before may have been optional for floating).

          5. AW*

            My current employer offers 1 floating holiday but you have to pick from a list. Their list does include Jewish holidays though. Your birthday is also on the list, which is nice for non-religious folks.

      3. Construction Safety*

        The chemical company I worked for didn’t give the day after TG as a holiday. However, we got our birthday off as a part of our PTO / vacay days & hence, every year almost everyone took off the day after TG as their BD. :)

        1. Bibliovore*

          I have never in 30 years of working gotten a paid day for Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. I just take a vacation day. The worst was when a school that I worked at scheduled a mandatory professional development day on a Saturday that was the day after the first night of Rosh Hashanah. AND the theme of the day long training- Diversity.

          1. Chinook*

            As a Catholic, I have had to take PTO off to attend religious services like Ash Wednesday and see nothing wrong with this. What I did have issue with was that I was begrudged the time off and told not to make a habit out of it when our staff meetings would coincide with my religious service or would regularly plan them for Sunday mornings.

            I don’t expect to get paid for not showing up to work (so getting to use my PTO is a bonus), but don’t begrudge me when I do it for religious reasons.

            And, 30 years later, I still begrudge the university intramural tournament we lost because the finals were scheduled at the exact time as our Holy Thursday religious service, meaning our team from the Catholic college were all attending mass and no one thought it was acceptable to reschedule the tournament for religious reasons. We would have finished our season unbeaten if we could have played.

        2. nonegiven*

          I think they did that where DH works. They didn’t get black Friday off but so many took their floating birthday holiday or a vacation day off that they added black Friday.

    2. Sparky*

      This year a major, national library conference is scheduled on 9/20. My big boss is going, while wishing she were home and taking her child to Temple. My manager is not going, which isn’t great for her professionally, but it isn’t a choice they should have had to make. No one would have scheduled this conference over Easter or Thanksgiving. The lack of consideration is astounding. I hope there will be an outcry and the conference organizers will be more mindful in the future.

      1. zapateria la bailarina*

        Hopefully there is some sort of survey afterwards that gives everyone the chance to respond and call this out. I know for almost every trade show my company participates in, a survey is sent out a couple days later to ask attendees/exhibitors for feedback.

      2. Koko*

        There’s really just so little common awareness of when the minority religious holidays fall. My organization recently scheduled an event for the 20th. It wasn’t an intentional slight, and we rescheduled it after we received feedback from a few Jewish invitees so we could be more inclusive, but before we got the feedback we just didn’t realize it was a holiday because no one on our small team is Jewish. We’re working now to put together a department calendar on Google that includes all major religious holidays so staff can consult it when planning events, but up til now we’d managed by pure luck not to schedule a conflict like this before (we only do events a handful of times a year) so it had never occurred to us that we needed a calendar of holidays.

        1. Chinook*

          The thing is, it isn’t that hard to figure out which dates should be no goes for religious reasons. One group I worked with had to schedule a national exam every spring and the first thing they did was pull out a calendar showing various major religious holidays for various faiths and immediately X them out. True, you then narrow your window of acceptable dates greatly (which created headaches for booking facilities), but if you do it far enough in advance, you can do it.

          1. Koko*

            For sure, I’m not saying it’s hard once you think about it. It had just never come up for us before, we’d had a half-dozen evening events a year for years without ever accidentally scheduling over a holiday, and no one on our small team had any cause to know what the Jewish holidays (or any other ones) were. As soon as it came up we adjusted our policy to explicitly check for holidays before scheduling events, but it had to come up before it occurred to us that we needed to do that. So it wasn’t a lack of consideration so much as just inexperience and lack of awareness.

        2. LizB*

          If you’re using Google Calendar, you can add pre-made calendars for most sets of religious holidays. Next to the “Other calendars” heading in the sidebar, click the little triangle in a box, then choose “Browse Interesting Calendars” and just add the ones you want. Do note that the Jewish Holidays calendar includes some more obscure holidays, and it doesn’t account for the fact that holidays start the evening before (e.g. Rosh Hashana starts the evening of the 20th this year, but it’s listed on the 21st and 22nd on the calendar because those are the full days it covers). But other than that, it’s very useful.

            1. Cherith Ponsonby*

              Thanks for this! I don’t know if anyone at my company is Jewish, but I do have a couple of Muslim colleagues on my (wider) team, so this will definitely be handy. (Also I love acquiring random pieces of general knowledge.)

              A while ago my partner worked at a medium-sized company in Melbourne (Aus) with Jewish owners; they gave half-days for Jewish holidays, so you could take the whole day off but only have to use half a day’s annual leave. (I *think* observant Jewish employees might have got the full day off without using any leave, but I wasn’t the one working there and I forget the details.) The big Christian holidays are federally gazetted as public holidays here.

        3. Observer*

          If you are using Google Calendar anyway, it takes about two minutes to get a base line calendar in.

          I’ll post a link to Goggle’s instructions in a reply.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          We had a bunch of customers at OldExJob who were Jewish and I would always schedule shipments around the holidays because their offices would close and nobody would be available to receive them. I’m pretty sure I was the only person there who even thought about this.

        5. Geoffrey B*

          It’s not just about staff absence, BTW.

          A couple of years back some well-meaning folk at my work decided to organise a multicultural lunch. Bring in food from your culture, share it around, promote diversity and understanding yada yada.

          They scheduled it right in the middle of Ramadan when our Muslim staff were fasting from sunrise to sunset…

      3. Phoenix Programmer*

        Except we just had a letter talking about an employer scheduling a meeting in Halloween, also religious for some, so yes these things do get scheduled on major holidays from time to time.

      4. Person of Interest*

        Last year I was invited to speak at a conference, on Yom Kippur. Nope. I have had to use PTO for Jewish holidays in every place I’ve ever worked. When I reminded my boss this year that I would be out two days for Rosh Hashanah, her response was, oh yeah, my kid’s school is closed that day. Like, sorry my religion is creating a child care hassle for you. Can I get my PTO approval now?

    3. Lora*

      I get the impression that even where the companies are not Christian majority, it doesn’t help; the only time I’ve known anyone to get off for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or Hanukkah was if they worked for the local JCC or Jewish school. Even when I lived in neighborhoods that were predominantly Orthodox or Ultra-orthodox (no TV, women kept separate all the time), shops were still open on Jewish holidays. *shrug* Go figure.

      At the moment working for a company that is majority agnostic, and people just kinda take off any old how. You’ll make up for it on a busy week, so that’s OK, just get your projects done.

      1. fposte*

        I went to a public school in a plurality-Jewish area, and schools were closed on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; several small businesses in town were as well. I think it was the combination of small suburb and small business that made the business closures happen; I think it’s less likely in a bigger city or with a bigger business.

      2. Another Lawyer*

        I worked for companies that would give whatever holidays (not full breaks, but the days themselves) the public schools in the area gave, so Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were always off because the schools closed.

    4. Anon Marketer*

      The way I see it is this:
      Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is considered a Christian nation, hence, off on most Christian holidays—the majority of which people celebrate. We, as Jewish people, still get that time off, whether we celebrate those holidays or not, so by offering you more time off, whether religious or not, means you get more time out of the office than the majority of people, meaning they’d operate a loss. That being said, I can think of Catholic holidays people don’t get off for, especially if they have to work Sundays.

      Just part of working in the minority.

      (I DO however, feel this should be an excused absence for educational purposes though, since you’re paying the educational institution, not the other way around—my two cents.)

      1. a1*

        I disagree a little. Yes, Christmas is a federal holiday, but that’s it. I’ve never worked anywhere that gave any other Christian holiday off – not Good Friday, Easter Sunday or Monday, Ash Wednesday, nor even Christmas Eve. The closest I came was when I worked retail and Christmas Eve was a shorter day (not even half day, just shorter). I’ve worked a variety of jobs from retail to compiling demographics to banking. Even all the “bank” holidays do not cover these days. Bank holidays are New Year’s Day, MLK Jr Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. We can take the other days off, of course, but that goes against our vacation or PTO days.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yep, you can thank our Puritan ancestors in this country for the fact that we don’t get religious holidays off (with the exception of Christmas!) — they prided themselves in refusing to follow the church calendar and treating Christmas (etc.) just like every other day. So unlike a lot of European countries whose calendars are still marked with Christian festival/feast/observance days, our calendar in the US is largely marked by patriotic and non-religious federal holidays.

          1. Cherith Ponsonby*

            Oh that makes sense! I’ve always wondered why, in a country that seems so much more overtly Christian than mine*, the big Christian holidays aren’t automatic public holidays.

            *Australia. We’ve had an unmarried atheist** PM who lived with her (male) partner, but one of the major sporting codes has staunchly refused to schedule matches on Good Friday (until next year’s fixture), and (especially in the country) many businesses are open every day except Christmas Day and Good Friday.

            ** The list of grievances against Julia Gillard was such that “atheist” (and even “unmarried”) hardly got a look-in behind “female”, “deliberately barren” (an actual quote), “bleeding-heart lefty”, “male partner is a hairdresser”, “couldn’t win the election by herself and had to rely on cross-bench support”, “has red hair”, and so on. As someone who fits the first three of these it was infuriating.

        2. nonymous*

          my experience when performing administrative tasks for my parents during holidays is that it is hard to get work done if a good chunk of your contacts are off on that day/week. So that’s the case for everybody getting certain days or weeks off – to standardize schedules across an industry or region.

          That said, I’m a big fan of keeping mandatory holidays to a minimum and increasing staff PTO bank to compensate. If someone wants to take religious holidays or a week off at their birthday it makes no difference to me as long as they get a reasonable amount of time off over the calendar year and meet deadlines. One downside of this approach is that it can be harder to take large chunks of time off for long vacations.

        3. Anna*

          That’s funny you should say specifically Good Friday and Christmas Eve. A job I had years ago the company gave us Christmas Eve off, for which I was really grateful. The company I work for now had to convert floating holidays into paid holidays and went with Christmas Eve for one of them. The other paid holiday is pretty much whichever they think they want to do in a given year. Last year it was Good Friday; this year it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

    5. Clownbaby*

      I guess I was fortunate enough to go to a school that allowed Jewish students to take Jewish holidays off. They would also bring in a food bar solely for Jewish students during Passover. I, a non-religious Catholic, was always jealous that they got to have a “day off” and that they got to eat Matzo and hardboiled eggs…I don’t know why but I love that stuff haha. Typical kid jealousy. Now I can get all the Matzo I want in the international foods section and realize that I was lucky to go to such an inclusive and caring school.

      Now I work for a company with a Jewish president so all Jewish workers get a paid day off on those days. I am located in an area with a good-size percentage of Jewish people though (I even went to a Jewish day care center), so I suppose that has something to do with it….I went to college in another state and met people who’d never so much as met a Jewish person, so they were shocked by all the sweet Bar/Batmitzvah swag I had, haha (so many tshirts, blankets, and dufflebags!).

    6. SystemsLady*

      I’m glad my company at least takes the token gesture of giving everybody 1-3 days of floating holidays, in addition to PTO (the number of days depends on what year it is because they add some extra days around holiday weekends).

    7. PersephoneUnderground*

      As a counterpoint (with the “that just comes with being a minority” part), my elementary school in Chicago’s north shore suburbs closed for the Jewish high holy days. I figured out as an adult that this must be because that area had a substantial Jewish minority population, so it made sense to close those days rather than have ~20% of the students out for the holiday. Just wanted to share that closing on “minority” holidays does sometimes happen, depending on the situation and area.

      1. fposte*

        Wow, we must have grown up very near each other; my Chicago suburban school did the same thing. (I think it would have been more than 20%, at least when I was a kid.) And the small Jewish-owned businesses sometimes closed, too.

      2. Not An Admin Assistant*

        Exactly. My mother grew up in an area of New England with a large Jewish population, and the schools closed for the High Holy Days because a good 30 – 40% of the students AND STAFF would be out at services.

        When I was growing up, very much in the religious minority, it was just accepted that I was out of school on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, and my parents used Vacation or PTO days. Then we all had to make up for the time missed (usually not a big deal, since it was only one day at a time).

    8. EA in CA*

      I’m based in Canada and our company follows the Federal or provincial mandated paid holidays off. Our policy stats that we follow what the Labour Standards legislation has set out. Anyone requiring to take time off for any religious holidays can use their available PTO. But we have a very generous PTO policy (starts at 4 weeks right after probation) and staff can earn flex time as well. We have never had a staff member complain about the policy and it is consistent regardless of what religion you follow.

    9. Xennial*

      There are many fields of work that 24/7 and you get stuck working on holidays, even federal ones. That is a fact of life for me. So I give up 2 to 2.5 times the pay for that day plus having another paid day off, for taking that one holiday off. We all have to make choices that comfort our souls no matter what beliefs you follow.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – And this is why floating holidays are the best answer. OP – is there any way you can work a flex week?
    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve had to use PTO for Christian based things. But many Christian holidays are on Sundays, so there is some cultural advantage.

    1. Susan K*

      I work rotating shifts and often end up being scheduled to work on Easter Sunday. Since the holidays are selected with Monday-Friday workers in mind, Easter isn’t even considered a holiday, so I don’t even get paid extra for working Easter (which I would for working, say, Columbus Day).

      1. Susan K*

        …Which is my poorly-phrased way of saying, even if a Christian holiday falls on a Sunday, it’s not necessarily going to be a day off for everyone. Only one Federal holiday (Christmas) is a Christian holiday, and while that’s one more than any other religion, Christians are still in the same boat for other religious holidays.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          And of course, a lot of people are still working on Christmas. (I remember one Christmas years ago when my toll booth collector was apparently Muslim (per her headscarf), and I was so pleased! Presumably she was making extra holiday pay without actually missing out on a day that was special to her.)

          1. shep*

            A small anecdote: Half of my extended family is Muslim, and they tend to celebrate both Muslim and Christian holidays. I remember my aunt’s husband telling us he’d been enlisted to cover the office for half a day on Christmas, and apparently his employer had just assumed he’d be fine with it because he was Muslim. He was cool with the holiday pay, but he said he would’ve rather been able to spend the whole day with family. (I assume they asked if he could stay and didn’t just assign him, but if I remember correctly, it was more of a voluntold “ask” than a legitimate one.)

          2. Arielle*

            My brother (Jewish) and sister-in-law (Buddhist) are both doctors and they always work Christmas, which means we always get to see them on Thanksgiving!

          3. Beckie*

            I know some Muslims celebrate Christmas — and in fact, the more observant ones seem more likely to celebrate Christmas. And my Jewish in-laws celebrated Christmas even before I (non-Jewish) was in the mix.

        2. sap*

          Plus, at this point a lot of secular/athiest Americans still celebrate Christmas, because it’s nice to have regular family holidays even if they’re not religious, and except for going to church, nothing else about Christmas traditions in America really reads as religious in itself, and the reasons for doing most of the things are largely “tradition”–the christmas tree doesn’t have a popular symbolism, the ham doesn’t, the presents don’t (whereas easter I don’t celebrate, because eggs and rabbits are great but it’s also symbolic of rebirth and resurrection, and most of the activities center on that). I know that Christmas is a religious holiday for christians, but my father was jewish and my mom was an athiest and we always did a HUGE christmas (in a majority athiest and jewish school and community, and everyone in the community did the same).

          1. sap*

            Apologies–I just saw a message from AAM downthread about posting on this since apparently it gets contentious; please ignore, and please nobody respond

    2. Doreen*

      What’s the difference between a floating holiday and PTO in terms of taking time off? I’ve worked places with “floating holidays”, but it’s always been a matter of the employer opening up on a holiday (like Election day) that the unions are entitled to have off and giving a floating holiday in lieu of closing. Otherwise, I don’t really see the difference between giving everyone 10 days of PTO and two floating holidays and giving everyone 12 days of PTO. You could treat them differently in terms of carryover rules and such, but there’s no difference when it comes to how many days I can take off when my employer is open for business. Taking a floating holiday for Yom Kippur reduces the number of days I can take for other reasons in exactly the same way that taking a day of PTO does.

      I don’t see how you could do what my husband’s company planned to do a couple of years ago without running into religious discrimination. The owner is Jewish and the company had traditionally closed for Jewish holidays. And then one year he decided to stay open , and of course the Jewish employees were not happy. The initial solution (which lasted for about an hour) was to give the Jewish employees a couple of extra days off. The reason it only lasted an hour was because people who had been content using PTO for the Lunar New Year or Muslim holidays were not content with doing so when the Jewish employees got extra days off for holidays. The Christian employees were upset about having to use PTO for any observance other than Christmas, which is the only religious legal holiday and a day the company was closed. They didn’t mind doing these things when everyone got both the Jewish holidays and Christmas off – but they were not willing to do it if the Jewish employees got two extra days off. In the end, everyone got the two extra days of PTO and everyone was satisfied. But I truly don’t see how you could give everyone X days PTO and then add two additional days either of PTO or holiday leave only for employees of one religion.

      1. Jennifer M.*

        The difference is probably really an accounting one. At one job sick and vacation was a single pool of universal leave and you accumulated based on length of service at the company and 10 holidays were a separate pool of days and everyone got the same number (with 2 being designated as floating). At another job, vacation and holidays were combined into a single pool with the HQ being closed on 8 of the 10 holidays (the other 2 the office was “open” but you didn’t have to come in if you didn’t want to) but the field offices (in 30 different countries) free to make the 10 holidays fit their local calendar.

        At the job with the floating holidays, President’s day (Feb) and Columbus day (Oct) were floating holidays. Both are federal holidays. So if you wanted, you could take those two days off on the actual days of observance, but if instead you wanted to extend Memorial Day weekend (May) and you needed an extra travel day for Thanksgiving (Nov), you could use your floating holidays then. That way everyone got 10 holidays plus however many days of leave they had accumulated based on length of tenure (the longer you were there, the more days of Universal Leave you got).

        1. Beckie*

          In addition, there could be differences in accrual — you get 1-2 floating holidays in your balance at the beginning of every calendar year, but the PTO accumulates per month. And if your office’s fiscal year is different from the calendar year, that’s another difference.

      2. hermit crab*

        I think it might work best in offices that don’t close? I work for a consulting firm — we don’t ever “close,” so if you are not working, you are taking some kind of leave time, period. We get 10 holidays (which are tracked separately from vacation) and you can basically take them whenever you want. So, for example, if you want to work on December 25 and take New Years Eve off instead, that’s fine. Of course, not all religions’ holidays are the same length (or frequency) but it’s fair in the sense that everyone gets the same number of days off.

      3. But you don't have an accent*

        I think companies do this pretty differently across the board. One I worked at gave us a floating holiday, but my manager and chain of command all thought it had to be used for an ACTUAL holiday (like, something on the calendar), and not just for an extra day of PTO.

        I ended up needing to use it for PTO, and being Catholic, was able to find a Saint’s Feast on one of the days I needed it and used that as my “holiday”.

          1. But you don't have an accent*

            I want to say it was the feast of Saint Bartholomew but you know…there’s like, 10 a day, every day in the month I picked so it was easy enough to find something to fit my needs.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I think a lot of us atheists would have to suddenly convert to Catholicism if we worked there!

          Either that, or bring a discrimination suit against the company based on religion (or lack thereof), but that would take longer. ;)

          Oh wait! “Friday is the holiest of Pastafarian holidays and takes place each week. During this High Day Pastafarians are encouraged to take it easy and, if possible, try to find some sun. Fridays are dedicated to the ideals beholden in the Beer Volcano and the Stripper Factory, and one can do no more to honor His Noodly Appendage than to observe Fridays with the utmost of piety.”

          1. Chinook*

            No need to convert, you can find a Saint for every cause under the sun and you can borrow one of them to commemorate said cause. St. Francis is a good one for nature walks (Oct. 4). St. Elijah is the patron of sleeping (July 20). St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is for grief (Jan. 4). The only one I couldn’t find is one for relaxation (probably because it goes against the work ethic it takes to become a saint).

        2. SystemsLady*

          Our HR director specifically wrote you can use it for birthdays, mental health days, or even just to extend PTO, which I appreciate.

      4. Scuttlebutt*

        I don’t fully understand the floating holiday either. My company gives us one floating holiday, but you have to take it on an actual religious holiday. It doesn’t have to be *your* religion, but it has to be a religious holiday. This makes me, as an atheist, feel really weird. Like, hi, I’d like to take this Muslim holiday off, please, because it falls on a Monday and I’d like a 3-day weekend.

        1. CM*

          I’m not surprised you don’t fully understand, because your company’s policy makes absolutely no sense!

          “Floating holidays” at places I’ve worked are basically an extra vacation day, but the intent is that my kids’ school has several holidays (like Columbus Day and MLK Day) where my office is open, so I can pick one to take the day off. I’ve never worked in a place where they enforced using your “floating holiday” on a specific day, though.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            My husband’s company gives a floating holiday that is used for the two days of the company picnic*. The company has four crews A/C and B/D that each work 12-hour shifts of four days on, four days off. One floating holiday is for A/C crew to go to the company picnic, and one is for B/D crew to go.

            I don’t know why they call it a company picnic; they just give all the employees tickets to the regional amusement park, and the tickets are good for any time during a several-weeks period. They don’t gather up and have a meal together or do door prizes, company awards or anything. They just pass out the tickets and everyone is on their own to go either on the floating holiday or at any time during the specified period.

        2. Allison*

          My company gives two floating holidays, but we can use them for whatever we want. The difference is, at least here, that we accrue vacation days, but the two floating holidays are granted up front, so you can use them regardless of how much vacation you’ve accrued. As far as I can tell, there’s no restriction on what you can use them for, I used one for my birthday and I think another to travel with family.

        3. #WearAllTheHats*

          BAH! Who do they get to police that and for goodness’ sake, do they have NOTHING BETTER TO DO?! It’s flying spaghetti monster day, eat my shorts HR. And I am IN HR and really… some of the things “we” do are ass backwards. Give an extra couple days PTO and stop policing.

          1. Gandalf the Nude*

            Yar, it be true! But I do enjoy educating me coworkers on the finer points of our high unholy day and wouldn’t want to take off today anyhow.

        4. MashaKasha*

          What on earth! I do not understand this policy either! The way every company I’ve worked at has phrased it was, our state requires that we give our employees X paid holidays, but we are only closing the company on X-3 days this year, so here’s three paid holidays to make up the difference. No mention of religion ever!

        5. AW*

          That’s really weird. My employer does make us choose from a list of “approved” holidays to use the floating holiday on but even it includes secular holidays and you can use it for your birthday.

          1. sap*

            I’m curious–how does your company handle conflicting religious calendars on when a (well known) holiday is? I’m thinking about Greek Orthodox calendar vs. Catholic calendar for easter right now as an easy example, but it’s on a Sunday and I’m sure there are others.

      5. Natalie*

        I’ve worked at two companies with floating holidays, and for them there were minor differences to PTO: Vacation could be banked (with a cap) but floating holidays were use-it-or-lose-it. Vacation was paid out at separation but not sick time or floating holidays. And vacation time accrued x-hours-per-pay-period, but floating holidays were available immediately at the beginning of each year

        1. else*

          Yes, that’s how mine does it. You don’t get the floating holidays until you’ve worked there a year, but then you get three annually, on top of vacation days that can be banked up to 2 months’ worth. I think that most people use them for family illnesses or treks to the city for doctor’s appointments (we’re literally 3 hours from everywhere), and then pad them on to their winter or thanksgiving holidays at the end of the year if they haven’t needed them. They have the lovely advantage of not really needing more than a day or so’s notice, and supervisors are encouraged by our culture to approve them no matter what, unlike vacation, which can be refused for business needs. You can only use one at a time, though.

      6. Koko*

        My understanding is that the chief difference is the company does not have to pay out floating holidays to employees who quit. Especially at a large company that makes a big difference in how much liability the company has on the books which pretty directly impacts cash flow.

        My company does a floating summer holiday for everyone. You can take any extra day off you want in June-August and charge it to your floating summer day, but if you don’t take it in June-August you lose it.

          1. sap*

            Move to California! You can use the vacation your employer has to pay out when you leave to pay 1/4 of one month of your rent!

      7. Koko*

        However it’s definitely a huge issue to only give floating holidays to some staff and not the whole staff, especially when religious affiliation is the determining factor! That’s not a typical application of the floating holiday concept.

      8. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        At my company, we get vacation days, sick days and floating holidays. Floaters and sick days don’t carry over. There’s the difference for us. So again, accounting term.

    3. MashaKasha*

      I’ve had to use PTO for Christian based things, too. If I could have back all the Good Fridays I’ve taken off, I could probably go on an overseas trip! But I agree, the number of federally mandated holidays is severely limited as it is, and one of them being a Christian holiday does have a potential to come across badly to people practicing other religions. Says a lot about my privilege that I’ve never thought of that. (Even though most of my extended family is Jewish and those of them that work, do have to take Jewish holidays off.)

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        When I was growing up, spring break for the local schools was always the week of Good Friday, so we always had a week off for Easter. Now spring break is just during the third week of March, and doesn’t necessarily correspond with Easter at all. I don’t know if it was changed to decouple spring break from a Christian religious holiday, but that doesn’t really seem like something Arkansas would do . . .

        1. nonymous*

          my MIL grew up catholic in Chicago and she referred to spring break as Easter week even with the decoupling until she retired from teaching a couple years ago. I was very confused when first dating now-husband by her references to Easter that were clearly not around the Easter weekend! Although by now I have since learned that she, like many people on this planet, creates an alternate reality that only mostly correlates to facts. sigh.

        2. Teacher*

          I worked at a Catholic school that decoupled spring break from Easter while I worked there. All of the local public schools still had their spring breaks tied to Easter. It was weird.

        3. nonegiven*

          We used to have 2 weeks in the fall for the kids to get off and help pull cotton and that was in the 60s.

    4. Oryx*

      This entire thread has made me realize that my company has floating holidays, we just don’t really call them that.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I’m so sympathetic. I have always had to use PTO/vacation time to observe religious holidays at literally every employer I’ve worked for. My supervisors somehow think they’re being magnanimous by “letting” me take off days that have pretty strict religious requirements re: observance, without recognizing the ridiculousness of everyone taking off specific Christian holidays (with no requirement that they draw down PTO/vacation). It’s not illegal, but it’s extremely frustrating.

    All that said, like Alison, I’m most troubled by how your HR person responded. That framing really isn’t acceptable/ok when working with a diverse workforce or clients. If there’s a way to let HR know that you’re not challenging their determination, but that their phrasing was problematic, I think it would have value… unless they’re otherwise inept / unwilling to take feedback / vindictive.

    1. Oilpress*

      So do you want to receive extra holidays, or do you suggest working on Christmas Day? The first scenario would not be fair, while the second scenario is often illogical in a society built around most businesses being closed that day.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        PCBH is noting a problem with the attitude. If “supervisors somehow think they’re being magnanimous by “letting” me take off days” while those same supervisors never have to use PTO to observe their holy days, they have an attitude problem. A big one.

        “the second scenario is often illogical in a society built around most businesses being closed that day” — this seems like a weird thing to say as an argument against having people work on Christmas (though I don’t see that PCBH is arguing that everyone should work Christmas!). You’ve basically just said that people shouldn’t have to work that day because people are used to not having to work that day.
        I celebrate Christmas, so I don’t want to suddenly have to go into the office on Christmas, but I can that is must be incredibly frustrating to have bosses not even acknowledge this as a thing some people have to deal with; for lots of us, we never have an issue with observing our holy days because our company is set up to observe our days. That businesses can decide to favor one set of religious workers over others in this way may be legal, but I can absolutely see why that doesn’t make it easy to swallow for people who are not in the favored group.

        1. Koko*

          I took Oilpress’s comment to refer more to the dramatically lower staffing needs that many businesses have around Christmas due to the fact that so many other businesses are closed and people have altered their usual routines for holiday vacation.

          Obviously in a retail setting there will still be demand on Christmas, which is why so many stores even make Christmas Eve/Christmas a mandatory all-hands day. But in a lot of other fields, it might be hard for an employee to actually get very much work done if everyone they need to collaborate with is closed or off work.

          My company doesn’t close for Christmas, but the vast majority of staff take some or all of the days between Christmas and New Years, at least half of the vendors we work with close for some or all of those days, and our email subscribers basically stop opening or reading most of their email for the week because they’re too busy. I work in email marketing, so there’s almost nothing for me to do that week. I typically “work from home” that week, which really just means that I stay near a computer, monitor my email, and respond to anything urgent that happens, but I don’t make forward progress on any projects because none of the people I need to collaborate with are around to do the parts I need them to do. It’s a pretty nice trade-off – although I can’t go on vacation or go to the movies or take long afternoon naps since I’m technically working, at the same time it allows me to stay an extra couple of days at my parents’ house so I can chat and have lunch with them during the day, and after I go home I can get a lot of chores done and relax with the TV like I’m on staycation.

        2. nonymous*

          I worked in a place that was 24/7 for years and we had a PTO pool that included holiday, sick leave and vacation time. So if an employee’s scheduled shift included a holiday (whatever that meant to the employee), they would schedule it ahead of time and use their PTO to cover the absence, just like vacation. When I was on graveyard, it was really nice because I’d never need to take PTO for holidays (I was lucky to have family that was local). For the staff that worked 2nd shift, they burned up a good chunk of PTO on holidays, depending on how observed holidays fell that year.

          Now that I work in an industry that is white-collar with decent vacation time, if I tried to work a similar holiday schedule I still wouldn’t get any work done! The first year was so boring because I hadn’t built up a vacation balance and my coworkers took tons of time off because of use-or-lose caps. For us it’s not so much needing to collaborate in real-time, but we hand off tasks and so it can create a backlog if one group works significantly less over a month.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think you’re drawing a false comparison. Also note that referring to non-Christians’ holiday as “extra” holidays is inaccurate and demeaning to those faith traditions.

    2. Jess*

      What’s wrong with HR’s phrasing? It sounded to me like a shorthand or casual way of saying that it isn’t a federal holiday which everyone gets off. A diverse workforce actually strengthens the point—with employees of various religions, ethnicities, cultures, etc., many people’s significant holidays will only be *their* holidays. Therefore it makes sense for a company to only recognize federal holidays as the holidays that apply to everyone.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        But the federal holidays conveniently favour the dominant religion. Don’t you think we can do better than that?

        1. Jess*

          Yes, I think there’s solid reason to drop Christmas as a national holiday. But my point is still valid when Christmas isn’t a national holiday.

          1. MK*

            Even if it was not a federal holiday, a company with 99% Christian workforce, operating in a majority Christian society, would probably still favor that schedule out of practicality.

            1. Mookie*

              a company with 99% Christian workforce

              I think you’re assuming facts not in evidence here, if you’re specifically referencing either the LW’s workplace or that of Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. The percentage of workplaces, excluding small and family-owned and -operated businesses, that fall under that rubric are vanishingly small, so “practicality” wouldn’t be addressed by treating this as a universal.

            2. MashaKasha*

              I would like to see the numbers on “the majority Christian society”. I think this will change in the near future, if it hasn’t already.

              A company with a 99% Christian workforce would have to be faith-based, or a mega-church, or, I don’t know, Hobby Lobby. I cannot imagine there being a lot of companies with 99% Christian workforce nowadays. If there is one, it is of course free to set its own schedule. When I started at CurrentJob, Good Friday was a paid holiday, I have no idea why. Their call. They changed the holiday schedule as we grew bigger and it isn’t now.

                1. Teacher*

                  And, in my experience at least, a significant percentage if not a majority of non-Christians celebrate the Santa/tree/big meal aspects of Christmas, usually because they grew up with it because their parents or grandparents were Christian, so they are probably going to take the day off too.

                2. Teacher*

                  To be clear I’m not trying to say that makes Christmas a secular holiday by any means, just noting that you don’t need anywhere near 99% of people who’d be counted as Christian in a Pew survey to have a critical mass of people wanting the same day off that would probably make it worth closing an office or school.

          2. Here we go again*

            While Christmas is historically related to the dominant religion, it is still culturally celebrated with many non-religious folks and even many countries that are not “Christian” countries celebrate.

            I kind of agree with telling someone to use PTO for that day. Otherwise, as an atheist, I could make up any holiday reason for an extra day off.

        2. MK*

          Can we? How? The more obvious solution, to give people of minority religions their major holidays off without using PTO, would mean that they would get more time off that everyone else. Even if Christmas is not their holiday, they still don’t have to work, which is not an outrage, but not fair either. Should they be working on Christmas? For most workplaces that wouldn’t work at all, while for others it would be a waste of resources. Should Christmas not be a law-mandated holiday anymore? That would create a lot more problems than it would solve.

          1. Blue Bird*

            Hm. I think remote work is feasible in a lot of workplaces, so that non-Christian employees could work on Christmas and then take a free day at some other point. But even if that’s not the case, I think it’s fair to grant non-Christian employees an equivalent number of days off. If you think of the psychological toll of working on a major holiday when you know your family is home and celebrates… seriously, what’s one more day off then? The employee will certainly feel satisfied and valued, rather than frustrated and ostracized. Small cost.

            When I was working at a university, students would sometimes request a day off for a religious holiday. I had no problem with that and didn’t count it as absent time.

          2. Mimi the strange*

            But on the flip side.

            Forcing an employee to take their religious holidays as PTO while other employees don’t have to means that those of non-Christian faiths have less PTO which is also unfair.

            The fair solution is to give people of other denominations their religious holidays without using PTO. They already have to suffer through shops that cater to Christmas, Easter and other Christian based religious events. If Christian employees get their days off automatically without having to ask or lose PTO then it seems fair to allow other faiths to have them too.

            1. Mockingjay*

              Depending on the various employees’ faiths, that solution could result in a lot of holidays (“holy days”) for employers to manage. Following Federal holidays seems to be a reasonable compromise, even with Christmas as the lone remaining “Christian” holiday. (I’ll skip the debate as to whether Christmas has become secular as that is not pertinent to OP 3’s question.)

              I agree that the real issue is HR’s tone in dealing with the request.

            2. Temperance*

              Arguably, though, using your example, the secular and atheists among the group would be at a disadvantage. That’s why I support floating holidays. It makes it more fair to all.

              1. Blue Bird*

                Agreed, I think that’s a good idea. If there is one federal religious holiday, give everyone one floating holiday. If there are eight federal religious holdiays, give everyone eight floating holidays (to be determined at the beginning of the year).

                1. Purplesaurus*

                  Agreed. I’m curious if this is only a problem in the U.S, or if other countries experience this as well considering they seem to get more holidays overall than we do.

              2. JJJJShabado*

                Agreed. I think my employer has it right in that we’re not explicitly closed for holidays, so we’re not mandated to take the day off (e.g. MLK Day and President’s Day are holidays, most people work them) and you can use the holiday time as PTO in the future. We don’t have a mandated Christmas holiday, there’s a Winter Holiday that can be used after 11-15. Although, with how our calendar works, it couldn’t be used for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, everyone gets the same amount of holiday PTO, which seems fair.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  When I first started with the city, we had a *lot* of holidays, added in lieu of decent raises during contract negotiations. In addition to the usual ones, we had both Lincoln and Washington’s birthday, Good Friday, Flag Day, Veterans Day. The February holidays become President’s Day, we lost Flag Day and Veterans Day, ended up getting Veterans Day back. Some people would like to get rid of Good Friday and Columbus Day, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

                  A local university has an fall holiday called University Holiday, jestingly called “Columbus Was Not a Veteran Day”, because it never fell on either official holiday.

          3. MashaKasha*

            Honestly, at some point in the near future, making Christmas not be a law-mandated holiday will be a step in the right direction.

          4. Tuxedo Cat*

            I think it would be close to impossible to be 100% fair. Some people are atheists and agnostic, so they wouldn’t get a holiday unless it was secular. I imagine there are faiths that have more holidays that others, too.

            I’m not saying that people shouldn’t try to be fair on this issue, but I don’t think it’s easy.

          5. Delphine*

            Either everyone gets major religious holidays off (i.e. everyone takes Christmas off, everyone takes Eid off), or Christmas shouldn’t be law-mandated.

            1. sap*

              I first read this as Greek and the first one still kinda worked (though that isn’t an actual holiday for Greek nationals or Greek orthodox folks, it still worked in my head).

        3. Lynn Whitehat*

          My dad was a hotel manager for decades. Hotels are open every day of the year. His rule was “you can have off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah if you are willing to work Christmas and Easter.” Which I think is pretty fair.

          1. Samata*

            Thats what my partner does; he is in a 24/7/365 business & the only non-Christian in senior management. We always make sure we are in town Good Friday & the week after Easter and the week between Christmas and New Years so his staff can take their holidays/spring break with family.

        4. Fleeb*

          I don’t think that’s something the company should have to take on, but I agree that they could have handled the situation better. They could also offer some sort of flex arrangement.

      2. Bookworm*

        I think the issue is simply that it was pretty dismissive.

        The phrase “only your holiday” kind of comes across as though the HR representative thinks the employee is being a little precious about wanting her celebration. Frankly, it sounds more like how most people would describe someone’s wedding anniversary or birthday – not a recognized cultural tradition that goes back thousands of years.

        That might not be how you would hear it (although I imagine tone would make a difference,) but it’s not unreasonable that people are taken aback by it.

        1. Jess*

          Yea, I think for me it would probably come down to tone. Although I also recognize that what other people often hear as blunt or dismissive I hear as cutting to the chase (when said in an un-hostile tone), so it may simply be my quirk here.

          1. Mookie*

            I agree with Alison. The wording itself is rude in this context (more or less asking for a completely reasonable accommodation*). Cutting to the chase would be “yes, you may; please use your PTO for this.” No archness or judgment, an unequivocal affirmation followed by an order politely couched as a request, the way professional communication often functions.

            *which she wasn’t given, in my opinion, because she has to use PTO

            1. Phoenix Programmer*

              I disagree that reasonable accommodation = paying for all time off for religious holidays. That seems like a recipe for a religious discrimination case!

              Jane the Jew gets 5 paid holidays, Caleb the Christian 2, and Ashe the Atheist 0?

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This was what I was flagging re: phrasing/tone. It’s super rude to say “only your holiday.”

            HR could easily say, “I’m so sorry, but our policy is only to recognize federal holidays. As a result, we require employees to draw down PTO for other dates that may be personally significant to them.”

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          “The phrase “only your holiday” kind of comes across as though the HR representative thinks the employee is being a little precious about wanting her celebration.”
          This is what I was trying to phrase in my head when I read it. Thank you.

      3. CM*

        It’s because the HR person presumably would not say to a Christian that Christmas was *their* holiday. The effect is saying that Christian holidays are normal/default and deserve to have policies protecting them (e.g., the entire office shuts down for Christmas and Good Friday) while other religions are unusual and different and not entitled to the same consideration. As a minority of any kind, it’s frustrating and tiring to be constantly reminded that you are different and your “normal” is actually abnormal, and to have to ask to be treated equally and either be shut down or indulged with the caveat that you’re asking for something special.

      4. KellyK*

        I think it’s the bluntness of “it’s only your holiday” that’s the problem. What you’re reading as casual or short-hand comes off to me as a little bit of a dig. It also emphasizes the fact that the LW is a religious minority. It’s kind of alienating.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Agree. It was completely unnecessary. Wasn’t even shorthand, because, like others pointed out, the HR didn’t have to say that at all. “This isn’t a paid holiday at our company at this time, please use PTO”, there, done.

      5. paul*

        Not everyone gets federal holidays off. My wife and I have both worked Christmas, Thanksgiving, the 4th, over the years.

    3. Bananabiat*

      Even if it’s not 99% , if half the company takes PTO on the same day, it may make business sense to shut down completely rather than stay open with not enough staffing.

      1. Grumpy this morning*

        If the company needs a certain amount of staff to stay open on a certain day, then you just don’t let everyone take that day off. Let the Christians who actually go to church take it off, the people who just wanna open presents and eat pie can do that after work.

        I say this as someone who grew up celebrating Christmas, and travels for the holiday to see family in another city, including grandparents who may not be around much longer. But why do I get to travel for my holiday I don’t even observe on a religious level, but Jewish people can’t because they have to work and go to school? What makes us so goddamn special? It would be wrong to feel entitled to that like some snowflake. If making things fair for everyone means I only get time off around Christmas means I may not get to see my family, that may be a sacrifice I have to make.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        This argument assumes that a company would have no control whatsoever over who gets to take a day off. But what is much more likely to happen is that if the company decided not to close on Christmas, they’d require a certain percentage of workers to be there–enough that it wouldn’t make sense to shut down for lack of staffing. So saying “well we basically have to close on Christmas, so sorry, people of other religions, it’s not discrimination or unfair, it’s just practical” doesn’t hold water.

        Plenty of businesses are open on Christmas, and their employees find ways to deal with it (I grew up with most family members having to work Christmas, and we survived). Companies close on Christmas because they want to, not because they have to due to staffing shortages.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            There are lots and lots of places that need to stay open for one reason or another, and so they have to make sure there is coverage. Don’t work for one if you don’t want to, but that doesn’t mean they are all awful places to work. And my point isn’t about whether you want to work there or not, my point is that saying a company has absolutely no control over whether half to 99% of its employees all take the same day off is simply incorrect. Even companies that don’t normally require their employees to get approval for days off would likely change their policy if half to all their employees didn’t show up on the same day.

          2. Anna*

            There are plenty of places that would love to give everyone the day off but it’s just not feasible or possible; they need a minimum amount of staffing. It has nothing to do with having that much veto power and everything to do with the kinds of businesses they are that they require people on site.

            I work for a program that is required to have at least four staff people on site during the holidays because we are a residential program and there will be students in the dorms during the holidays. If all the dorm staff, security staff, and kitchen staff asked for the same day off, some of them would have to be told no because of the students being there.

          3. Lissa*

            Well, a lot of those companies are retail, or else essential services – they aren’t making people work Christmas just to be a jerk. I think sometimes people just assume it’s normal to get Christmas off and most people do, but this really depends on industries and in many cases, class.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Realistically, this is not how a lot of companies operate, especially those in retail. I’ve worked Christmas often, particularly when I was working in restaurants or in retail. People do not receive PTO for Christmas, and failure to show up on Christmas Eve/Day is often grounds for instant firing. Staffing is within the control of the company.

    4. BananaPants*

      I see nothing wrong with HR’s policy or the way they responded. A corporate holiday schedule can’t accommodate everyone. As a Christian, if I wanted to take the day off of work for most religious observances aside from Christmas, I’d have to use a personal or vacation day to do so.

      In addition to vacation, we get up to 5 paid personal days per year which require a manager’s approval but are typically used as religious holidays by those of minority faiths. A Jewish coworker uses two of his for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It means that folks don’t have to draw against their vacation time for religious holidays unless they’ve already exhausted their paid personal days.

      My husband’s employer has a standard holiday schedule with one floating holiday; he uses his floating holiday for his birthday, but he has coworkers who use them for religious observances instead. It’s actually harder for him to get a holiday off for religious observance because there’s a blackout on using the floating holiday on Christmas or Easter (or secular holidays like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July).

      My employer gives US based employees a paid “winter holiday” between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, inclusive. I have coworkers from a variety of non-Christian faith traditions and no one has ever gotten angry about getting a week-plus of paid holiday in December, simply because they don’t celebrate Christmas. The holiday schedule varies by country; US and European expats working in China have to use vacation time for Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. if they celebrate those holidays, because those aren’t on the local holiday schedule.

      1. CM*

        Like everyone is saying above, and Alison said in her response, the content of the message is fine but the tone is off. In the scheme of things, it’s not a big deal at all. It’s just something that companies should be aware of — when an employee has different needs (whether because of religion, disability, etc.) the company should try not to make them feel like there’s something weird or inconvenient about that. If the HR person had just said, “You’re welcome to take that day off, but you’ll need to take PTO since it’s not a company holiday,” that slight wording change would have made a difference in the tone.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        The issue was in saying, “it’s only your holiday.” The policy is pretty standard, and although it is not ideal (imo) and better policies exist, it is extremely common across employers in the U.S.

      3. Delphine*

        <i.A corporate holiday schedule can’t accommodate everyone.

        This isn’t helpful coming from the majority group that is being accommodated.

        I have coworkers from a variety of non-Christian faith traditions and no one has ever gotten angry about getting a week-plus of paid holiday in December, simply because they don’t celebrate Christmas.

        Of course we don’t complain–a holiday is a holiday. But I expect that if we suddenly asked all American Christians to take off Yom Kippur or Eid instead of Christmas, there would a lot of complaining. Religious minorities have had to put up with this forever, we’re used to it, but that really doesn’t make it okay. I’m okay with thinking that, unfortunately, this is just the way things are…but I am not okay with the idea that this isn’t an issue because everyone is used to the status quo.

    5. Iris Eyes*

      I agree the way the HR person responded is the more problematic issue. You are entitled to your end of the agreement of time off. Your vacation days are as much a part of your compensation as your salary or health insurance, so cultures of not taking vacation are ludicrous. In the end your company isn’t required to value the things you value. There are all sorts of things that people use their vacation for, but in the end all of those things are somehow important to the employee whether its time to play the latest Call of Duty game, or spend a religious holiday, or travel abroad.
      Maybe it comes from many years of working in jobs where paid time off for any reason wasn’t something that was an option so I’m just grateful that I do get paid holidays and vacations now. And that my boss is proactive about making sure that I have plans to use all of that time before it expires (we don’t do roll over.)

    6. SpaceySteph*

      I was on the receiving end of poor wording the first time I tried to take off Rosh Hashana my first year out of college. I mentioned to a coworker with more seniority that I was taking off “for the Jewish holiday” by way of explaining why I wasn’t going to be available on a certain day, and was sternly told “right, but it’s not a holiday its a day off.” I think she was trying to say “you don’t get to charge it as a holiday” but it did not come out that way. FWIW, my manager handled the whole thing fine and I never even interacted with HR on the subject.

      I really appreciate all the times AAM has covered religious exemptions because I’m now much more aware of my rights in this area. But that exchange has stuck with me (9 years later!) as something really upsetting.

      1. Specialk9*

        Wow. How awful. “You’re right, it’s not a holiday, it’s a Holy Day. Oh, do you not fast and spend 8-12 hours in religious services for your holidays? Wow! Must be just like taking a vacation. Just, you know, paid for by the company because you’re a Christian. Seems kinda weird, actually, now that I say that.”

  5. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 Also, sometimes contacts refer you to people who just aren’t going to make sense for you to network with.

    And sometimes people who do that just won’t be able to grasp that it doesn’t make sense, so it can be that you just need to quietly let it die. (In my case I emailed the person due to someone else’s insistence and against my better judgement, and never actually heard back.)

    1. MakesThings*

      Yeah, I feel like this is way too common, particularly when there is a generational divide, or when the economy was super bad and the job market sucked (not that it still doesn’t). It’s really hard to explain “this isn’t for me, at all” to super well meaning people, unfortunately.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yep, I’ve had people do this to me before. It took a while for me to learn to nod and say “Sounds great, thanks!” and then just drop it quietly later and never actually do anything about it.

  6. Ramona Flowers*

    #5 I’d just write out the questions as sub headings. Chances are they just want to see your answers, not your ability to weave the questions into prose.

  7. Maya Elena*

    LW3, I think PTO is completely reasonable. We get Christmas off because it is a federal holiday – a relic of the country’s history, whether we like it or not. Few companies that I know of outside of finance give Good Friday off (and that is because of a stock market closure, not religion). And what about the atheists who have no religious holidays to claim?

    From a philosophical standpoint, I take issue with the general expectation that your preferences have to be accommodated without even a reasonable cost (e.g., aPTO day) to you, beyond what’s legally protected. I think you have every right to *ask* for a freebie day, and it’s great if your employer is nice about it and agrees, – but I think it’s bad form to *demand* it.

    1. Oilpress*

      I agree. We do not get to make our own national holidays. I see nothing wrong with expecting employees to use vacation for their non-statutory holiday time off.

    2. Jess*

      I came to say the same thing about Christmas being a national holiday as the reason it’s typically given off. But I also agree with your point about PTO for religious holidays. PTO is time off specifically to be taken for whatever personal reason you have for taking time off. I don’t see why religious holidays wouldn’t be included in that. Otherwise you’d essentially be rewarding religious employees with the equivalent of additional PTO simply for practicing a religion. (And members of whichever religion has the most holidays would really win!) I’m not sure any large secular employer who cares about their public image wants to be seen as penalizing their non-religious employees. That seems like just asking for a lawsuit. (The same logic doesn’t hold for a day like Christmas though where everyone gets it off regardless of whether they celebrate or not.)

        1. Koko*

          I recommend converting to paganism. You get a holiday every 6 weeks like clockwork (equinoxes, solstices, and cross-quarters). No long drought between Presidents Day and Memorial Day!

      1. Zathras*

        A good employer doesn’t want to be in the business of deciding which religious holidays are ‘important’ enough to merit an extra PTO day and which aren’t.

        I do think if an employer closes for Christmas and it’s still possible for employees to work (either from home, or if they have access to the office anyway), it’s smart to allow people to choose to work that day and take a different day instead.

        1. Emi.*

          A good employer doesn’t want to be in the business of deciding which religious holidays are ‘important’ enough to merit an extra PTO day and which aren’t.

          This is a really good point–even if all the employees were Christian it would be a mess, since Catholics have extra holy days of obligation that Protestants don’t (AFAIK), but some dioceses move some of them to Sunday, but what if you live and work in different dioceses, oh and the Orthodox are on a different calendar.

          1. MashaKasha*

            Oh yes. Orthodox Christmas is on Jan 7. Which, of course, will never be a national holiday, so the Orthodox have to take PTO if they want to observe it.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      As an atheist, I have no problem with other religions having days off is they’re actually observing the religious holiday. I’m not religious, so I don’t need those holidays off and I don’t look at religious observance as a “free vacation day” or anything, so it’s not like I’m losing out on anything.

      I don’t think it’s fair that only Christian holidays are considered federal holidays because you’re giving preference to one religion over others. Many Christians seem to take for granted that they get a lot of their holidays as paid time off at no “reasonable cost”, and a lot of them would certainly demand a “freebie day” if they were suddenly no longer federal holidays.

      1. Jess*

        Isn’t Christmas the only Christian holiday also recognized as a federal holiday? I’m not defending Christmas as a national holiday; I think there’s a good case for not recognizing it as such. But it seems a bit of an exaggeration to say that Christians get a lot of their holidays as paid time off if Christmas is the only one.

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          Even if it is only one (not from the US so don’t know about Easter), it’s still one more than everyone else.

          1. Jess*

            Absolutely true, and never argued otherwise. I was only making a somewhat nitpick-y point about characterizing one as “a lot.”

          1. Jess*

            Really? That’s so interesting! Do you know the history? Is it related to being a member of the commonwealth?

            1. Hekko*

              A lot of European countries has Good Friday and Easter Monday as public holidays. Also many of them recognise other Christian holidays.

              1. blackcat*

                And the school that I used to work at gave those days off, though spring break was scheduled so that either Good Friday or Easter Monday fell on the “break” week.

                1. MashaKasha*

                  My kids’ school district somehow had all the major Jewish holidays off *and* the Protestant/Catholic Good Friday falling on Spring break. We were Greek Orthodox at that time, so did not benefit from any of that. Still pretty thoughtful of the school to include more than one religion.

              2. Tau*

                Here in Germany, I’ve got Christmas + Boxing Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and (this year) Reformation Day. Other states also have Three Kings’ Day, Corpus Christi, and All Saints’ Day. Not exactly secular.

            2. Blue Bird*

              Where I live, we have no less than eight federal Christian holidays… I may be an atheist, but I’m not complaining! However I do think it’s inherently unfair to everyone with a different faith. If it’s possible at all, employers should accomodate non-Christian holidays at well.

                1. Miso*

                  In my state in Germany we have Easter Friday and Monday, Pentecost (Sunday and Monday) , Ascension Day, Corpus Christi (May is awesome!), All Saint’s Day and two days for Christmas (2,5 for most honestly). And some non-religious holidays.
                  In a super Catholic state like Bavaria they have even more like the 6th of January.

                  I’m not religious (though I go to church on Christmas), left the church this year and actually think Germany is definitely not secular enough, but I’ll be honest – no complaining about religious holidays here.

                2. Miso*

                  Oh, and since it’s 500 years of reformation this year, we get Reformation Day off this year as well! So two days off in a row, whoo!

                3. Tau*

                  Aand I look downthread and see someone beat me to listing the sometimes amazingly obscure Christian holidays that are federal or state holidays in Germany!

          2. Al Lo*

            My office takes both Good Friday and Easter Monday off. Easter Monday isn’t a federal holiday, but it’s an extra one for us. It falls right before our really busy season, so it’s always kind of nice to have a 4-day long weekend right before things kick into gear in the spring.

            1. Al Lo*

              (In Canada, in case that wasn’t clear.)

              We get
              New Year’s Day
              Family Day
              Good Friday
              Easter Monday
              Victoria Day
              Canada Day
              Civic Holiday
              Labour Day
              Remembrance Day
              Christmas Day
              Boxing Day

              Our local school systems have different spring breaks – the public schools get the last week of March, and the Catholic schools get the week after Easter. (Private schools may have something else entirely, or they may coincide with one of those two.) Sometimes they coincide, and sometimes they’re up to 3 weeks apart. This year, they’ll be two consecutive weeks. If Good Friday is during spring break for the public schools, they get Easter Monday off in lieu, but if Easter is totally separate, they get Good Friday off and not Easter Monday.

              So Christmas and Easter are the 2 “blocks” of time in my office that are more than just one day. The rest are all civic holidays of some sort, and not religious.

              1. Birchwoods*

                My question here is, what’s the difference between federal holidays that are the same dates as religious holidays, and other federal holidays, like independence days and memorial days? They’re both federal holidays, it doesn’t really matter that one is traditionally religious since many people won’t observe the religious aspect. The best solution would be to keep federal holidays and then give each employee the same number of flexible “personal observance days” which can be used for non-majority religious holidays or whatever you want. I love in a country with different holidays than the ones I observe, and I think it would be bizarre to insist that they give me special time for my holidays. I work around it and am lucky to have flexible hours.

                1. blackcat*

                  “The best solution would be to keep federal holidays and then give each employee the same number of flexible “personal observance days””

                  This is what my husband’s company does. Apparently, they used to give everyone the week between Christmas and New Years off as PTO and shut down. Now each employee has six “floating holidays” that they may use at any point during the calendar year. Unlike PTO, they do not roll over year to year. Apparently most people still use those holidays between New Year’s and Christmas, but my husband is taking three of his at Thanksgiving, so we can travel then.

                2. Roscoe*

                  I think the problem with that, at least in the US, is sometimes its just not practical (depending on the job) to have a business be open with only 5% or some other small number of people there. So its just easier to say “we are closing between christmas and new years” than to say well, take these days as you like, then have most people take it off. Because logically, if you are open, you need a certain amount of coverage, which means some people won’t get it off who may want it.

              2. Lady Blerd*

                Quebec doesn’t have Family Day or the August civic holiday. We do have St-John the Baptist day in June and that is a Christian relic as he is French Canada’s patron saint.

              3. Lauren*

                It varies from province to province. Not every province gets all those holidays off unless you work for a school board, university, bank or government. The mandated holidays in Alberta are:

                New Year’s Day
                Family Day
                Good Friday
                Victoria Day
                Canada Day
                Labour Day
                Remembrance Day
                Christmas Day

                Civic Holiday and Boxing Day are optional and up to each employer if they want to give it as a statutory holiday or not. Easter Monday is VERY rare for private businesses to give as a statutory holiday or not.

              4. Revolution*

                Family Day isn’t a federal holiday; the date also varies by province. Schools and the federal government will get Easter Monday off, but it’s not a federal stat holiday.

                Also, not every province gets Remembrance Day off. (Always interesting when I got the day off but my family/friends didn’t!)

              5. Chinook*

                Al Lo – not all those holidays are stat. holidays for all provinces and federally regulated employees. Ontario doesn’t get Remembrance Day as a stat. and Alberta doesn’t get Boxing Day as one. And St. Jean-Baptiste/Fete Nationale is one in Quebec. I think it works out to 10 stat holidays for everyone with variations on which of them they are.

                So, to answer Birchwoods’ question, the only three that are religious holidays are there for historic reasons back when 90% of the ruling population was Christian and enough people still celebrate them (especially Christmas, Easter not so much, but it falls on a Sunday and Good Friday isn’t everywhere) that to rescind them would be political suicide.

                The other holidays were created to either commemorate something nationally (like Remembrance Day) or because the people/government decided that the people needed a long weekend between December and April to spend time with family and friends (and beat the winter blues). With all of these, no one is told how they have to celebrate them and few begrudge a day off or an opportunity to may holiday pay. This is especially true for those people working the lower end of the wage scale where their PTO is paid off on their regular pay cheque instead of actually getting to take it off. It forces unsympathetic employers to actually give people time off or pay them more for the inconvenience. And it helps to coordinate everyone’s expectations for lower service availability because “it is a stat” is a legit reason for some where not to be open.

                1. Al Lo*

                  Sorry; I meant that my office takes those days off. We’re small, and don’t have some other benefits, but we do kind of max out the paid holiday days. I should have clarified that they weren’t all national, or even provincial, stat holidays.

              6. Lissa*

                I grew up in a city in Canada that was also the name of a holiday, and as a child totally thought growing up that we got a day for Canada, province and city. :) I was like 16 before I realized this wasn’t the case.

        2. Bookworm*

          Christmas is the only federal one. I think some states recognize Easter Monday as well? I used to get it off.

          1. NCKat*

            We used to observe Easter Monday as a holiday in my state, and they changed it to Good Friday about 20 years ago because the NY Stock Exchange is closed. But it’s a state holiday, not a federal one. My company is closed on Good Friday.

        3. all aboard the anon train*

          Ah, I meant to include state law in there with federal since there are quite a few states that have other Christian holidays than Christmas as paid holidays.

      2. JamieS*

        I don’t think it’s fair if I were to have to use PTO for my days off while someone else doesn’t because they happen to believe in an entity or entities that I don’t. I don’t care if someone is using their days off to attend a religious service, have a personal day at the spa, or to visit their secret family in Rhode Island. Basically I don’t care what someone does on their day off. I only care if they get more time off than I do for nonmedical reasons without having to use PTO.

        Some may not find it fair for Christmas to be a national holiday, and maybe it isn’t, but since everyone gets it off Christians still aren’t getting more time off than members of other religions without having to use PTO. Although I’d rather get the week off for Hanukkah than the day off for Christmas so I’d very much like for Hanukkah to become a national holiday. That’s probably a pipe dream though.

      3. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        So, I’m an atheist, but I was raised Jewish. The only Jewish holiday I really celebrate anymore is Passover (it’s like Thanksgiving, but with better food, and more of my family gets together!). I try to make it to my parents’ place for Passover whenever possible (some years, the timing is bad and I can’t go).

        I’m not sure if that would count as “actually observing the religious holiday” for your purposes — unlike people who are religious, I don’t believe that I have an obligation to do anything that day. I just want to celebrate with my family if possible.

        If it were up to me, I would classify religious holidays, secular celebrations of religious holidays (like me with Passover), and other family events (e.g. family weddings) all together in the same category. Religious holidays are basically just another kind of family obligation, in my book. (My views on religion don’t agree with Title 7, though, so I’m just building castles in the sky here.)

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Treating all things the same is flawed thinking, because all things aren’t the same. Some things are more important than others. Missing Thanksgiving is sad, but isn’t at the same level as missing a parents funeral.
          As a secular person you can’t really determine the level of someone’s religious accommodation precisely because it’s not important to you.

          1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            That’s why bereavement is separate from PTO, right? And some people want certain religious holidays to be treated the same as bereavement (no need to use PTO). But if no secular holiday celebration would qualify, that seems kind of like privileging religion over non-religion.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              A lot of companies don’t have bereavement.

              I think that a lot of secular people don’t get the “required” part of religious holidays. That sets them apart from other types of holidays.
              To work on Yom Kippur is a huge deal in Judaism. It’s not the equivalent of working on Thanksgiving.

              1. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

                Ah, I see — I was archive-binging recently and came across a post about an employee arguing about the timing of their bereavement leave, so it was on my mind.

                Anyway, my problem with the whole thing is that it kind of presupposes that nothing in a secular person’s life could ever be as important to them as a religious person’s religion is to them. (Except maybe a funeral.) I think that’s a fallacy, and a pervasive one.

        2. Temperance*

          I think that floating holidays would be the most fair, though, because even in your scenario, someone is going to be at a disadvantage. For instance, you’re prioritizing family events, and who gets to decide what constitutes a family? I have Thanksgiving with close friends every year, and that’s more important to me than any “family” event.

          1. Turquoise Cow*

            I agree. It leaves the responsibility on the celebrant to decide which days are worth celebrating and which are not. For example, maybe someone is estranged from his abusive parent and doesn’t want to go to their funeral, or doesn’t have a big family but would like to celebrate occasions with friends. If your best friend since kindergarten gets married, is that less important than your estranged sibling whom you haven’t spoken to in ten years, because blood?

            My family hasn’t done anything huge for Thanksgiving since my grandfather died about ten years ago, but sometimes out of state relatives show up in the summer and we have a big barbecue. Why is one less or more important just because of where it falls on the calendar?

            Obviously, not everyone can always have off on whatever day they please; enployers have to think about things like coverage and whatnot, but making days off of any kind go through some sort of approval process based on their “value” to an outsider is ridiculous. If I want to take a day off in the middle of August to celebrate my birthday, or I want a day in June for a family barbecue, it should be none of my employer’s business.

            My husband is somewhat Jewish and I’m a lapsed Catholic, and we celebrate all the holidays and intend to keep celebrating them more as family traditions that are important to us as a tie to our families and our familial history than from any real belief in anything at this point. I don’t see how that’s any less worthy of a day off than someone who believes. Spending time with loved ones is part of the purpose of a holiday, and something about the meaning of Christmas as well.

          2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

            Yeah, I definitely did not intend a narrow reading of “family” there. (Though the ratio of “I’m going to this event because I feel obligated” to “I’m going to this event because it is my personal desire” is usually higher for events with relatives than for events with family-of-choice, at least for me.)

      4. Mookie*

        Agreed utterly, except as an atheist I do think “score! free holiday!” when I get a federal or state holiday off for something I’m not observing and I’m definitely in favor of everyone (neighbors, co-workers, clients, the world at large) having the opportunity to celebrate in whatever fashion they wish, including non-observance or sleeping-in or stepping out, periods of religious and cultural significance, ditto secular memorial days, without being dinged for doing so like they’re aberrations who are being, at best, tolerated. Part of life in a society that purports to be inclusive and multicultural is accepting some minor inconveniences that don’t feel “fair” to a majority used to being catered to. Sure, some things are zero sum, meaning there are trade-offs, and as an atheist but also just as a person I’m happy to “sacrifice” a shift or two I’d’ve liked off to cover for a colleague as she asserts her right to worship as and how* she chooses, whatever the time of year.

        *I’m in my mid-30s and live in boonies southern California, and over the past four or five years I’ve noticed a sharpish uptick in the amount of policing of co-workers (who are not Christian) in how they choose to spend their (non Christian) holidays off. Like, driving by their homes or social media-stalking them because heaven forfend they do what a lot of practicing Christians do on the eve or morning of their largest feast day and just fart around, talk with their mouth full, walk their dog, or sunbathe, or whatever. It’s gross.

        1. fposte*

          The hell? That’s horrible. So, like, your religious co-workers are driving by your house on Good Friday to check on you? Because that’s a more appropriate way to religiously observe?

          1. Mookie*

            Ah, I think I worded that badly. Co-workers, religious or not, have created an atmosphere in which non-Christians are suspected of or treated as though they’re skiving when requesting time off for religious and cultural observation. Most of it is just a lot of tittering and camp eyebrowing-raising and grousing about coverage, but the most egregious and ridiculous example is from last year when a co-worker spent about a week gossiping and tattling on two of our (typically grave shift) colleagues because the co-worker didn’t see their cars parked outside our local mosque during Eid al-Adha, for which they both scheduled time off. We filed a joint complaint and he was finally made to shut his gob.

            1. Mookie*

              Oh, and yes, a Jewish supervisor was spied on by a neighboring crew member, who lives a block or two away but drove past the supervisor’s house for a few hours to “check” on her on Rosh Hashanah for reasons that were never made entirely clear, but she was angry that the supervisor was at home for part of the afternoon.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I think the operative word there is “boonies”–this kind of stupid shit (and it IS shit) seems to be more common in middle-of-frickin’-nowhere areas. *makes note to avoid the boonies in SoCal*

        3. Geoffrey B*

          In Australia we have some public holidays around major sporting events. I take pretty much zero interest in those sports, but I certainly appreciate the time off.

          1. Cherith Ponsonby*

            I’m still a bit peeved that the day before the AFL Grand Final* wasn’t gazetted as a public holiday until after I left Melbourne.

            * AFL is of such immense historic and cultural significance in parts of Melbourne/Geelong that it might as well be a religious day.

            1. Cherith Ponsonby*

              (And I certainly don’t mean to trivialise anyone’s religion by that footnote. The link on my name shows the completely deserted streets of Victoria’s second largest city on Grand Final day in 2007; I was watching the game on TV and they showed multiple scenes like this, so it wasn’t a staged or one-off photo.)

            2. Geoffrey B*

              I remember when ACT instituted a “Families and Communities Day” that “just happened” to coincide with Melbourne Cup Day. Though I think they eventually moved that one.

              1. Cherith Ponsonby*

                I hated the Melbourne Cup Day holiday so much! A Tuesday public holiday does nobody any good, and it’s so much more fun when you get to go into the office, wear a stupid hat, and have a non-compulsory half-hour “all staff meeting” to watch the race at 3pm. I’ll take the October long weekend any day.

    4. Cambridge Comma*

      We are able to reconsider our countries’ histories though, particularly when they privilege one group over another. Employers are also allowed to offer more that they are legally obliged to, and often do in the interests of staff retention.

    5. Aurion*

      I think it’d be great if people can all float their holidays to whatever makes sense for them, but I’m not sure how that would work, practically. Even if your work is portable and doesn’t require an office (thus don’t need “majority employees” to determine whether or not the office opens), a company doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Even if Jewish people would rather work Christmas and Christian would be happy to work Rosh Hashana, or whatever, it might not make sense to keep Christmas season as operating days if all your clients closed their doors. I think companies who can make it work should try their best to make it work, but I feel like a lot of it does come to putting the majority as the default because it’s easier logistically.

      But as an atheist, I have less skin in the game, I think.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I think it depends in part on what your company does, and that’s necessarily going to influence perception. Of course, anywhere that’s open 24/7/365 is going to be able to easily accommodate people flexing away from the “standard” holidays (they’ll have a harder time with the people who want those days off, some of whom will probably have to work, given relative populations).

        Places that sell things often need to close on those days or face negative public perception from the majority group, or just having so little business that they’re wasting money by being open.

        But knowledge workers – editors, writers, software engineers, etc. – often have ongoing tasks that they can work on without needing interaction with anyone else. That group, while the company sees no advantage to them working when most of their coworkers are off, it probably also sees no disadvantage. (Actually, there can be an advantage – if you have a company/office that’s big on chatter or prone to interruptions for whatever reason, client needs to ‘the boss gets bored’, then working when most of the rest of the office is out might actually let them get more done. But that’s dependent on the company and office.)

    6. AcademiaNut*

      I also think that using PTO is reasonable, but that if it’s possible to swap shifts (or offer to work Christmas in favour of your own holiday) that should be made as easy as possible. If you have a rule that people get religious holidays off for free, then you have people getting different amounts of vacation based on religion.

      I actually do use PTO to take Christmas off, because I live in a predominantly non-Christian country. At my workplace, it’s also not unusual for non-local people to make an informal arrangement with their supervisor that they’ll work through the Lunar New Year holiday (at home, because the office is closed) and take unofficial time off later, in part because it’s just really, really boring to spend New Years here when you don’t have family to visit. The city is a ghost town, stores and restaurants are closed, but you can’t travel because everyone is going to visit family, and it’s usually chilly and raining.

      (The holidays we get are January 1, the Lunar New Year, Tomb Sweeping, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Children’s Day, plus labour day (May 1) and two national holidays.)

    7. BananaPants*

      Yup. My colleagues from the US and Europe who work in India and China have to use PTO for their holiday celebrations (both secular and religious) because the company’s holiday calendars in those countries are geared toward the majority culture/religion.

      IMO it’s not unreasonable to expect employees to use PTO or to receive unpaid time off for religious holidays and observances that don’t fall on the employer’s holiday calendar.

    8. Delphine*

      If the “relic of the country’s history” favors one religion over another, then I don’t see why the LW’s expectation that her preferences should be accommodated is so unreasonable. It’s not like we’re trying to get rid of that relic…there’s clearly no plan to become the secular country we want to be an take Christmas off the federal holiday list.

  8. MillersSpring*

    #2 For exercises, it may seem like they’re asking you to do new work, but perhaps it’s a project that actually was completed months or years earlier, such as drafting a press release or web content. This has happened to me as a candidate, and it’s what I do as a hiring manager.

    1. AlligatorTrainer*

      Yes, at my work we had candidates do a short writing assignment to be representative of an important task, but I’d combined details of multiple previous iterations of the task and put in fake client names, so we’d just get a sense of their ability. It was incredibly useful!

    2. ReanaZ*

      I do this–give a project brief from an actual (already completed project). I also find I have trouble predicting how long candidates will work on a thing but it’s usually waaaaaaay longer than I want them too. Last one I gave, I did myself in 15 minutes. Assumed it would take a junior person unfamiliar with my org knowledge 2-3x that, told candidates they should spend no more than an hour. Most spent 1.5-2 hours before I cut them off and did waaaaay more work than I asked for, including things I told them were unnecessary.

    3. FTW*

      I actually really like the idea of asking a candidate to redo an exercise after feedback was provided (assuming reasonable time for exercise and feedback). Coachability is something I actively look for when hiring, and this would be a great way to see how someone receives and incorporates feedback.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        Absolutely. This actually sounds like a great activity for my role where we get feedback on everything, and it would help to see how a candidate handles that and incorporates it.

    4. Interview Exercises - OP*

      Hi – it’s OP for this question.
      I didn’t mind the exercises – as actually it was really useful as a candidate to get a hold of a task that I’d be doing day-to-day. Regarding it possibly being old work – I guess it’s possible! But it was phrased in such a way that was asking me to recommend new ways to do a current process. I’m pretty new to the job world, so I wasn’t sure how unusual this is. Previous jobs only asked me to do a phone and in-person interview. I guess I felt that since it was generally a lateral move, and I’ve held a job with similar responsibilities for two years – that these exercises were over the top. I appreciate everyone’s input! Keep it coming :)

      1. LQ*

        But that could (and likely is) just the way the question is phrased. It would be weird to phrase the question as “we had this problem in the past and fixed it” because then the interviewee will be spending time thinking about what we did and what the “right” answer is. So I’d absolutely phrase it as a current problem/process.

        I’d also say that generally interviews don’t…assume where you are at, so if it was a lateral move they don’t know that, that’s part of what excersizes and the interview should show. You think it’s lateral, but how do you really know unless you have actually been in both jobs and done both jobs (and even then it’s sometimes different what different people do). That’s all part of the interview process, to learn about the job, and the potential employee.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          And the fact that it’s a lateral move doesn’t really say anything about work quality. Some people are mediocre at their work; some people are great at it. Exercises let you really see where people are.

      2. MillersSpring*

        Yes, if I asked a candidate for different ways to do a current process, I’m probably not picking their brain to get free ideas. Rather, I probably have done a current process in different ways in the past, and I’d like to hear the candidate’s ideas, or reasoning, or familiarity with aspects of a critical job duty, etc.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Also an hour’s worth of work by someone whose skill you’re still evaluating might not be worth the amount of effort it would take to see if it’s really useful. An hour’s worth of coding could have a lurking bug that’ll cause problems down the line. OTOH, I’ve heard horror stories from artists who were asked to design a “sample logo” or some such, and then saw the company using it despite them not getting the job.

  9. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Insider baseball question (if you don’t like discussion of site mechanics, please just skip ahead!) —

    This was a particularly long post for a short-answers post, mainly because my answers to questions 1 and 2 ended up being longer than I anticipated. When these are getting long, would you prefer four questions instead of five / is it too much to read in a single post? (Originally when I started the short-answer posts years ago, they were just supposed to be a few sentences each. To illustrate, here’s the very first one.) Would you prefer I kept these truly short? Do you not care one way or the other? I don’t have a good sense of people’s interest in reading posts that get pretty long.

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      I would prefer five questions with shorter answers to four with longer ones, and I don’t mind the longer answers — I like that the questions get the length of answer they ‘need’ and it’s usually clear why some answers go into more depth than others.

    2. Chocolate Teapot*

      The only thing I find with the multiple questions posts is that there is always one (or two) of the questions which spark more debate than others. I seem to recall one that you ended up spinning off into its own post.

      Otherwise, four shorter questions in one post and a longer one in its own post is fine by me.

      1. Bookworm*

        Yeah, my thoughts on length are more comment related than post related. I don’t mind a long post, but if one or two of the questions generate a ton of debate and the others are more straightforward, it can make hard to navigate the comment section.

      2. Five after Midnight*

        I haven’t been on this site for long, but navigating the comments in a 5-2-5 post is the most complex part, especially when there are multiple branches/discussions on 1 or 2 of the questions. As far as the Q&A section of the post, I’m indifferent to the format. Love the site – lots and lots good advice and povs both from AG and the commentariat.

      3. Purplesaurus*

        I agree, but I assume Alison can’t always anticipate when that will happen (although anything involving the bathroom or verbal/physical violence is a sure bet).

      4. Sarianna*

        Honestly, I wish we had a comment section per question sometimes! When there are thirty different threads up and down, it can become hard to keep track of discussions.

        I definitely agree that Alison shouldn’t feel the need to keep the number exact for our sakes, though.

    3. Sherm*

      I don’t think they are overly long. I tend to skip over the ones that I don’t think would interest me much. (I read three out of the five today.) But if I found all five to be speaking to me, then I would be glad to read all five, regardless of length.

    4. Myrin*

      I honestly didn’t even realise that this post was especially long for a five-answers post, so if you ask me, you’re good.

    5. GermanGirl*

      I think the answers are the right length for the questions.

      I also like the 5 answers to 5 questions format and I don’t mind reading a longer post when short questions meet long answers.

      That said, why not throw in an occasional 3 answers to 3 questions instead of 5 answers to 5 questions if a post already feels long enough after 3?

    6. MillersSpring*

      I don’t mind long posts for 5 short questions. You could try splitting them into multiple posts on the same day. So maybe this post could have been three short answers, then two hours later a post with two medium answers.

    7. JamieS*

      I’m fine with five long answers although I didn’t realize these were long answers. I think questions that are likely to spark a lion’s share of the discussion should be separated out into different posts so the other letters aren’t overlooked though.

      1. GermanGirl*

        That seems like a good idea but I’d think it’d be pretty difficult to predict which questions spark a lot of discussion and which don’t.

      2. Oryx*

        AAM has done that once or twice, when a question was getting 90% of the comments and the other 4 questions were being ignored.

        The problem is, she can’t know in advance which ones are going to spark that debate and I believe she’s even said that there were times when she thought it would be question #2 and it ended up being question #3, so even if she did do it in advance, there’s still a risk that one question would dominate.

    8. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I don’t mind either way. I read every answer because you never know what will be useful, and it’s interesting to learn about what other people deal with, other procedures, etc. (I enjoy long posts because I like reading, but if they became shorter, I probably wouldn’t notice unless the difference was pointed out!)

      1. Jennifer*

        Me too. To me, Alison’s answers are always exactly the right length for whatever question is asked. (Thanks Alison!)

    9. Em Too*

      I like the longer answers where a letter deserves them. And while I’d generally prefer more answers to fewer but I don’t feel entitled to any particular number.

    10. AcademiaNut*

      I actually find reading long *answers* less of an issue than reading very long *questions*. Sometimes when questions are particularly wordy with lots of extra detail, I’ll skip to the answer before reading them, and only go back if I need more details to understanding the question.

    11. Laura*

      I think (maybe akin to job interviews) the questions should be answered completely. It’s fair to your letter writers.

      I mean I asked a question on employment verification a year ago-almost 2 years now- and the answer was short and simple, but complete.

      Something more complex/or wacky workplace-y needs a more elaborate answer due to the sheer number of factors.

      Tldr: As long as the answers are as complete as possible within reason, whatever you decide is fine by me.

    12. Darcy*

      I don’t mind the long answers to the 5 questions. Although I do think it would ultimately be easier to manage the comments if each question got its own post. But understand that would make more work for you.

    13. Essie*

      I’ll never complain about too much AAM. I can always come back if there’s too much content for one sitting.

    14. Kyrielle*

      I would prefer five questions because it’s more material. I don’t worry about length too much at these levels, but “more stuff!” is always good.

      That said, if you found it beneficial to do just four when some were longer, I would deal. :)

    15. Gandalf the Nude*

      I like both formats, but don’t particularly like them mixed. The very short answers are a really good size for a morning read. They get me in a professional mindset without making me want to dwell on them as I get to work. But I also like the, I guess, mid-length answers because some questions need more than a couple sentences but don’t warrant a while dedicated post. And like other folks are pointing out, they tend to draw focus from the much shorter answers so that one question dominates the comments and the others end up shortchanged. I think in my perfect world, we’d have separate roundups for the very short and mid-length ones, either swapping day to day or one first thing in the morning and the other taking the mid-morning spot.

    16. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thanks, all! Seems like people are fine with the five-answers posts being longer at times, and fine with me doing four answers instead of five if that seems warranted by the length. That’s helpful!

      To answer one of the questions that has come up here — It’s definitely true that I can’t always predict what will get an oversized response in the comment section. But a big thing that’s easy for comment readers to forget is that I want to balance the posts for non-commenters too. The vast, vast majority of readers don’t read the comment section at all, and I still want them to have a good mix of letters (so what will happen in the comment section isn’t my biggest consideration when choosing the mix of letters, although I do try to think about it).

    17. 42*

      The current format is fine with me. I was never even aware of the lengths of some of them until now when you brought it up. It’s not bothersome to me whatsoever.

    18. Jennifer O*

      I think I prefer 5 because I’m used to it, but I’d enjoy whatever you put out.

      I’ve noticed that the questions themselves are longer than they used to be, which may be why your answers are sometimes longer. For example, in the first post you provided as an example, all the questions were one short paragraph. The less detail provided, the less nuanced your answer has to be.

      That said, I enjoy every letter you answer. I always find the length of your answers to be just right: not too short, not too long. Just exactly what’s required for the question. I really appreciate this. Thank you.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh, that’s a great point! I think I answer fewer of the very basic questions these days because I feel like I’ve answered them so often in the past — so I’m probably picking slightly more nuanced (and thus longer) questions these days without realizing it. That’s a good thing for me to be aware of!

    19. Aphrodite*

      I love everything you write, Alison, so please do not shorten the questions or your answers. It’s perfect as is.

    20. Snarky*

      I like having 5 questions and the length of the answer doesn’t bother me at all. (And, really, it’d be more frustrating to feel like some important aspect went unaddressed so there is something to be said for sometimes going a bit longer than others.) If given a choice, I’d rather have 5 questions with whatever size response to 4 short answer responses. For me that number of questions provides a right amount of variety since some questions will not be as interesting to me as others.

      I will also say that being able to collapse comment threads has really helped. For questions that I’m not interested in or that have been addressed thoroughly already, I leave them collapse so it makes it easier to skip the comments I’m not interested in.

    21. HRM*

      It may be just me, but it seems like ALL the posted questions and answers are getting way too long. There is a lot to be said for conciseness and brevity in communication in the business world. I’d love to see that better modeled here.

    22. GrandBargain*

      When you are deciding to go with a 4- or 5-question post, I’d look more at the number of responses you anticipate the post will draw. When the number of responses edge up above 400 or so, I will either a) read only the first 100 or so and avoid commenting because I don’t know what has been said below or b) avoid the post altogether. I know you are aware of comment length because of the way you will sometimes split one question off into its own post.

      As to the length of your answers, I appreciate both long and short answers. Short ones because you cut right to the crux. And, longer ones because of the thoughtful way you deal with multiple possibilities or factors that might change the recommendations you offer or background that informs your responses. Having a couple of longer answers in a single post isn’t a problem for me.

  10. Sarah*

    LW3– I personally don’t see anything wrong with the way HR stated that. But then again, I prefer straightforward answers/explanations. Also, I do think it’s a bit presumptuous to ask for an additional day off that others don’t get because they observe a different religion (or even Christianity). And I’m from a minority religion.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Right, but the LW’s point is that for them Christmas is not something they would choose to have off, they just have to have it off anyway because everyone else decided and said: our holidays are everyone’s holidays – your holidays are extra. The LW would like there to be an ‘instead’ option, rather than being told this is extra and additional to a holiday they didn’t actually choose.

      In other words: it’s not an additional day unless you are from the majority. It’s an alternative preference that cannot necessarily be accommodated as such.

      Having Christmas off isn’t so great for religious Jewish people, at least here in the UK, as everything is closed, travel is difficult or expensive, etc etc.

      When the majority is the norm and the minority is seen as a presumption, that is not ideal. Maybe it’s fair, maybe it’s unavoidable in a society run by and for a majority, maybe it sucks, maybe it doesn’t, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this is peak equality.

      1. Mookie*

        All of this. If the system were about achieving an idyllic fairness, anyone who isn’t Christian could just insist they be allowed to work during Christmas, for example, or be otherwise compensated for a holiday they didn’t want. There are costs to privileging a specific religion here: anyone who isn’t a member is defaulted into a kind of stasis (services are limited or bogged down, as you say) and, if they practice another faith, they have the added costs (literal and figurative) of trying to observe it as they wish in a culture that doesn’t give them the same amount of time and size of space to do so.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          Since religions have different numbers of holidays and vary on when they fall on a weekday … I am not sure how an employer is reasonably expected to accommodate this?

          1. Mookie*

            People cover for one another when it’s not their holiday? This seems straightforward to me, with the added bonus of being predictable, because you can’t plan for the flu but you can plan months in advance for reasonable time off to celebrate things that happen once a calendar year.

        2. oranges & lemons*

          I think the truly idyllic solution would be to offer paid days off for the major holidays of several religions, plus a couple of floating ones. Days off for all!

    2. blackcat*

      They said that the holiday was “only” OPs. That has a definite tone of “Jewish holidays aren’t real holidays.”

      I wouldn’t really have a problem if they said “Because that’s not an official company holiday, you’ll have to use PTO.” That’s not a great policy, but it’s fine! And it keeps the focus on the policy, rather than judging OP for having a different religion, which is how the original response reads.

    3. LQ*

      It’s interesting to me that people think that this was a straightforward answer. I found it really …padded and full of coding. Mookie above posted a straightforward answer that was actually straightforward and without weird padding and coding. (Though I’d go with “Yes, use PTO” the one above is slightly nicer.)

  11. Admin on the go*

    OP #5 – I just did this for a position I’m interested in. I started with a cover letter format “Dear Hiring Manager” and a first paragraph of why I was applying before transitioning to the bulleted questions. I included the text with the question too. I then used the last question to transition to a closing paragraph that once again expressed my enthusiasm for the position and included a “thank you for reviewing my answers to you seven questions and I hope I have the opportunity to impress upon you just how well I fit this role.” I closed with “Sincerely – Name.”

    I got shortlisted for the role and a quick response with the application window still open. I took it as an opportunity to be conversational and create something that would show my writing skills since the position is for a contract admin role.

    Good luck!

  12. ReanaZ*

    LW5, these are SUPER common in Australia and are usually called ‘key selection criteria’ or similar. It is pretty rare to find a job ad without them and usually people use bullet points or numbers in the cover letter. I strongly prefer this to the open-ended American way. They’re telling you what they want to hear about and how to sway them. So useful.

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Thanks for this, I know someone who’s going to start job searching in Australia soon and can pass this info on. It does sound like a good way to write a cover letter, and far less stressful on the writer.

      1. Teapot PR consultant*

        Lady Ariel, just to reiterate ReanaZ’s point. If an Australian job ad asks candidates to address selection criteria, then it’s vital — not just a good idea — to address them point by point.

        Particularly for Australian Government roles, or government adjacent roles.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          Thank you so much, I really appreciate this and will pass it on. Hope you have a lovely day! :)

        2. Rebeck*

          And ask around about the expected length of answer, as it varies by industry: government work seems to be at least half a page per criteria, teaching more like a page.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            So glad I checked this thread again, thank you, all! I really appreciate your help. Internet cookies for all!

    1. BWooster*

      That’s interesting. My sibling is an MD and gets to have holidays off every year. Guess that is a benefit of a diverse workplace. Always someone to trade with whose leave needs are different.

      It’s actually easier for someone in medicine than someone in say…retail. a store is either closed it open, but medical facilities rarely are.

      1. Zathras*

        This kind of swapping around happens even when everyone involved is celebrating the holiday – my nurse family member has a buddy who celebrates with her family on Christmas Eve, and we celebrate Christmas Day. So if the holiday schedule dictates they work on the “wrong” day, they trade shifts.

        When I worked retail I used to always volunteer to work the Christmas Eve closing shift (we were closed on Christmas Day itself), because I lived really close to my family. That way more people who needed to travel could have the day or at least the afternoon off.

  13. Tealeaves*

    I don’t know if OP#3 is based in the US but this policy depends on the country. The company has to follow the official public holidays mandated by that particular country. Some countries don’t have Christmas as a public holiday despite it being so major and celebrating it commercially (e.g. China, Japan). You might want to try asking your manager to give you some time off at her discretion instead because legally HR has to say no.

    Certain categories like retail workers get paid more for working on public holidays, which is a plus for those that don’t celebrate that particular holiday. But if you have an issue with which holidays are recognized, that’s something beyond your company’s control.

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      This. I live outside the US in a Muslim majority country and even though I’m not Christian, I take Christmas off (to spend with my friends who are, to put up the tree and open presents with my husband, etc – celebrating it commercially, if you will – great phrase). I take Thanksgiving off as PTO for the same reason.

      Even though the Muslim holidays we get off don’t apply to me, it’s not legal for the company to not give them to me, and floating them is against labor law. If I happen to work on one of those days – even if voluntarily, even though I’m exempt – they company has to either pay me a 50% OT and an additional day off, or 150% OT with no day off.

    2. Delyssia*

      The US doesn’t have official public holidays, at least not in the sense that private employers are required to recognize them. Federal holidays are simply ones that federal employees have off.

    3. Anononon*

      That’s not true at all. Like Lars said above, federal holidays are for fed employees, and most other businesses choose to follow them. Businesses can give as many (beyond fed holidays) or as little holidays as they want.

      1. Natalie*

        It’s a little unclearly worded, but I think Tealeaves is specifically *not* talking about the US, but rather countries that do have public holidays.

        1. Tealeaves*

          Yes, I’m referring to countries outside of the US. It’s interesting to learn that the US has different categories of holidays. Elsewhere, holiday means holiday for everyone.

          I think for OP#3, the HR should have reframed Christmas/those other days as a scheduled company holiday or closure day.

  14. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    #3 – The ‘only your holiday’ phrasing really got my hackles up, and I’m nowhere near religious. Sorry this happened and hope you can get them to make a change.

    1. Blue Bird*

      Yes, the phrasing is very bad and implies ‘we don’t care about you and your silly non-Christian holiday’. If the company wants every employee to feel valued and included, they’re not doing a good job.

    2. blackcat*

      This atheist is really bothered by the language, not so much the policy. It makes it sound like Judaism is regarded as some weird cult the OP made up…

    3. RVA Cat*

      Me too. It’s especially jarring that this came from an HR person, who *should* be trained about these things.

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      As someone else who arranged to take Rosh Hashanah off work (and would have taken Yom Kippur, but it falls on the weekend), I find the phrasing really offensive. I don’t mind using PTO (and have never worked a job where I didn’t have to), but ‘only your holiday’ is deeply troubling. My boss has never been anything less than gracious about me taking off Jewish holidays and I should note that I work for a Christian organization and am the only Jewish employee. People should show a little more grace to one another, especially HR people.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I’m glad you have an awesome boss!

        Yes, as blackcat said, it makes it sound like the company views Judaism as something made up by the OP. Even if a person doesn’t know anything about a particular religion, how hard is it to show a little respect?

  15. Senior Payroll*


    My country, you can ask to swap a paid public holiday. So, you could swap Xmas for your holiday.

    This mrans, if your business was open Xmas and you worked, you wouldn’t be entitled to time 1.5 and a lieu day for working a public holiday, as Xmas is now a normal working day.

    But if your business was shut for Xmas, you would then need to use annual leave, or some other sort of leave (paid or unpaid). So, you may still end up taking a PTO day at some point,

    1. Blue Bird*

      My country, you can ask to swap a paid public holiday. So, you could swap Xmas for your holiday.

      That makes a lot of sense. Which country are you from if you don’t mind me asking?

  16. Lynn Marie*

    #3 – I don’t have a solution to your having to use PTO for your religious holidays, but I’d suggest you give your boss a little more than two days notice they’re coming up. If she’s not Jewish and you’re in a predominantly Christian community, she may have only a hazy sense of when they fall. Also understand that this is no doubt the first time this issue has come up for her, which may explain why she came across a little abruptly – it’s just something she’s never had to think through before. Should you have to be the one to educate her? Perhaps not, but that may be the reality, so assume she’s coming from a place of good will in spite of her ignorance and know that others are doing the same for you in life (although sometimes you won’t realize it at the time).

    1. HannahS*

      This comment rubbed me the wrong way. Frankly, you’re giving the HR person too much benefit of the doubt, and not enough to the OP. Questions often wait for a while in Alison’s queue, so it’s unlikely that the OP actually asked for leave two days before the holiday. But why is there no doubt this is the first time it’s come up in HR? An HR professional who has NEVER imagined that someone who isn’t Christian would want time off for a holiday? She’s never heard of Jews? We’ve been around a while. Why should oppressed populations assume people are coming at us from a place of good will? Believe me, there’s a big and obvious difference between someone who reacts to something they don’t understand with “I’m not familiar with this thing, please tell me more” and “I’m not familiar with this thing. Shut up and deal with it yourself.”

      1. Natalie*

        The LW says they asked for “this Thursday” off, so it seems that whenever they asked, it was less than a week from the day off.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Yeah, I caught that phrase to and it gave me the same concern. If a day is not a company holiday, you want it off, and it’s not for an urgent unpredictable reason, you should really, really have asked for it weeks in advance, not days. And if you do ask for it days in advance, I’d anticipate the answer might be ‘no’ or at least very grouchy. (That said, ‘your’ day didn’t need to be said. ‘Yes, use FTO’ would do.)

          They should still let you have religious holidays off if possible, but giving your company as much notice as you can is both kind and wise (because you probably have better things to spend your political capital on than last-minute notice that you’ll be out – and yes, anyone can look up and figure out Jewish holidays, but they may not know which ones are important enough that the Jewish employee will want to take them off, and it may not occur to them to go hunting for those either).

      2. Colette*

        You should assume goodwill because the vast majority of the time, you will get a better outcome if you do that. If you don’t assume goodwill, it will come across in your interactions, and you’ll be more likely to refer to the person you’re dealing with as incompetent, threaten to escalate, or threaten legal action. None of those will result in a better outcome for you by Thursday.

      3. Observer*

        Yeah, but outside of the major centers, people really just don’t realize.

        I agree that the way it was phrased was rude, and even if it was not intended that way, someone in HR should have known better. But as to not realizing that it’s an issue to start with, I really can’t blame her.

    2. BWooster*

      There is a lot of things a minority person may need to “understand” about living in a world that caters to the majority but how to live and be a minority person is not one of them.

      You’re really in no position to explain the HR person’s motivations, thoughts and experiences. There is a lot of talking down to the OP in your post on issues she has much more familiarity with than you and it is entirely unwarranted.

    3. blackcat*

      I don’t see this person as coming from a place of good will (the comment reads as being dismissive to Judaism in general). However, I *do* think it’s reasonable to for people who need holidays off to ask much further in advance (a couple of weeks), and then remind those around them when it comes up. I would imagine that, in most offices, this is the general pattern with planned time off anyways.

      I work and am friends with several conservative Jews (who are fully kosher/sabbath observant). Someone in my group proposed we hold an important meeting on Thursday (that’s a no-go). And I encouraged my husband to see about getting dinner with a Jewish friend on Thursday when I am busy with a dinner at work (also a no-go, and uh, bad timing on work dinner, too). I caught myself with the second one before my husband texted his friend with a “WAIT!” but that was after the observant Jew in my group emailed back and said “Nope, not then. What about Monday?”

      Even those of us who are well meaning and have a higher than average number of Jewish friends and colleagues forget about the exact timing of the holy days. Just this week I’ve decided to set up my calendar so that they appear automatically so I don’t look like a doofus.

      HR person was flatly rude and dismissive, but I think it would have been okay if they said, “Because it’s not a company holiday, you’ll need to use PTO. And, in the future, please request the days off in advance.” I’d still kinda think that’s a shitty response (because it’s a shitty policy), but it wouldn’t be borderline offensive.

    4. Delphine*

      This just seems condescending. I don’t think minorities need a lesson on assuming other people are coming from a place of good will.

    5. Lynn Marie*

      1. Sorry, certainly didn’t mean to offend with the phrase “assume coming from a place of goodwill”
      2. I find that sometimes it’s helpful tactically to give someone the benefit of the doubt even if you think they don’t actually deserve it.
      3. Sometimes it’s also useful to be patient with others who haven’t yet attained our own high level of enlightenment and give them a little slack while they catch up.
      4. I’m a minority.
      5. I’m grateful to all the people in my life who have done this for me.

  17. Mazzy*

    #1 was management 101 for me, from the other side. Everyone thought that because someone was “nice” that there work must be stellar. Actually one of the nicest people in ge office made lots of mistakes because they overlooked stuff! They were always chatting! People just really had a hard time accepting that this person made so many errors and wasn’t that great at their job, because they were otherwise nice and well spoken and educated. None of which means you’re good at work!

    1. Talk To My Boss - OP#1*

      Hi Mazzy,
      You’re 100% right. And, it is true – I think Heather has a bit to learn, including possibly a bit of humility. I do want to express that I believe Sarah is a very talented, capable employee, who definitely deserved to be promoted. What is harder to watch is the volume of criticism. Perhaps (and you can give me the scoop, as an actual manager) it might be fair to say that Sarah is not picking battles – she’s opting to put her foot down for every perceived infraction, and that is what’s making the whole situation so palpable as an outsider. Is that a valid argument, or do you believe differently? I’d love to know your thoughts!

      1. INeedANap*

        Hi OP! Thanks for weighing in in the comments, it’s so helpful!

        Can I ask – you say: “for every perceived infraction”. What does this mean? I apologize if this comes across as nit-picky, but I think it’s important to know if there are actual errors or infractions that Heather is making? Or are they “imagined” ones?

      2. Mazzy*

        My opinion is to choose your battles carefully. This took time. I think there is a finite amount of times that you can sit someone down and talk about real or perceived infractions. When you sit someone down every time they do something you’re just distracting them, making them feel paranoid, and demotivating them. From my career, I remember trying to correct someone’s writing essay length emails, coming in on time, talking too loud, a few technical errors, and web searching too much, all at once but in short succession. I wish in retrospect I would have waited and had one sit down, and started at the largest infraction. Not because that is better, but because it has the best impact long term, IME.

  18. Not Today Satan*

    #1- I hope this isn’t against the nitpicking language rule, but your comments about “the gravitas she seems to crave” and “puffing her chest” seem condescending. I totally get that some people can power trip when they become bosses, but especially for people who are put in a role of managing former peers/friends, people are just as likely to try to walk all over their boss. I think that it makes sense that she’s setting expectations right away rather than trying to be the “cool boss/still your friend” at first.

    I was put in a similar position as your boss and unfortunately had to treat my former friend more strictly than others on my team because she was showing a pattern of disrespect for my position. (I didn’t have different standards for her, but for example I knew I could say “hey can you please do X?” to some members but had to say “I need you to do X” to her.) I don’t relish being authoritarian but I’m not going to let someone take advantage of me either.

    1. Chris*

      Following up in this vein — what if Heather is complaining to co-workers about feedback given 1:1 by Sarah? Sure, there’s a problem with how it’s being perceived (based on what Heather is telling people) but what can Sarah do about that?

      1. RVA Cat*

        It sounds to me like Sarah is criticizing Heather in front of the rest of the team, which is why Allison says to address perception and how it is effecting morale.

        1. Chris*

          The letter says “I’m not privy to their conversations” and the comments below also indicate that they aren’t taking place in public, although Heather apparently emerges looking upset.. I don’t disagree with Allison’s advice — I just am wondering what the next steps for Sarah would be.

    2. Talk To My Boss - OP#1*

      Hi Chris and RVA Cat,
      These perspectives are super insightful, and you’re right – I am being a bit judgmental. I do want to emphasize, Sarah really is a talented, hard worker, who deserved the promotion. In her defense, the *way* she was announced as the new manager was also not rolled out very well, so she didn’t have much of an opportunity to start off on the right foot. And, you make a great point, in regards to what Sarah can do to diffuse the situation – there’s only so much she can control. I suppose my goal is to highlight for Sarah that we are all on her side – we want the office to improve, and we want her to succeed – and we know that Sarah’s aim is not to be divisive. Perhaps, Chris, we can agree that repeatedly pointing out someone’s faults does not regularly encourage a positive work environment, nor does it inspire someone to work hard. Being critical is not wrong, but if you don’t pick your battles, you can easily end up de-motivating someone. That’s the heart of what I’m trying to get to with Sarah, in so many words.
      And yes, RVACat, the effect on morale is exactly my concern! I cannot speak to Heather’s competence, in Sarah’s eyes. But I can say that it is pretty depressing to watch Heather get criticized every week to the point of tears.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Oooh, to the point of tears?! Not good. Is Sarah criticizing just the work, or is she going after Heather as a person?

        If Sarah has that much trouble with Heather’s performance, it may be kinder to just let her go. Has Heather taken on new tasks since Sarah was promoted? If Heather is being required to do Sarah’s old job – especially that position won’t be filled – it could be a combination of Heather not doing things Sarah’s way, Sarah having unrealistic expectations because she knows that role cold, and the role no longer suiting Heather’s skill set.

  19. Employment Lawyer*

    Should I have to use vacation time for a religious holiday?
    Honestly I think some of the problem is this:
    “I approached HR this morning asking if I’m able to take off this Thursday

    You told them in the same week. But that holiday has been set in stone for like 5000 years.

    I’m Jewish: some folks I know take off only Yom Kippur; others take off all holidays; and so on. Try making a list of the holidays when you “won’t be there because they are central to your religion” and try letting HR know (rather than “asking if you can take them”) well in advance.

      1. Jennifer M.*

        But Alison doesn’t usually edit the phrasing of the letters so I think it is fair to interpret that on Monday the OP went to HR to ask about taking Thursday off (“I approached HR this morning asking if I’m able to take off this Thursday”), got the PTO answer and wrote to Alison on Monday afternoon, Alison saw it on Monday, noted it was time sensitive and added it to the Tuesday post.

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, it does sound like pretty short notice to me too. That’s really workplace dependent, so it might be totally common for the LW to ask for days off in the same week and have it be fine. But if it isn’t, that might be part of the brusque response. (I still think HR was out of line.)

      I definitely like the idea of a list for the whole year.

    2. Starbuck*

      I think this is a good point, and hopefully most of the reason that the letter writer didn’t get a great response. Perhaps HR assumed that if this holiday was something that OP took seriously, they would have asked further in advance? Since holiday dates are almost always known well ahead of time. They way they responded is still pretty uncharitable but… who asks for major holidays off the week of? Many places couldn’t accommodate any request (short of an emergency) in that kind of time frame. I can see why they would balk. But fortunately this part is a really easy issue to address.

  20. Em Too*

    UK public holidays are more likely to fall on Mondays. Part timers at my company get a proportionate amount of each holiday. As a Wed-Fri worker, I get 0.6 of a day to take off in lieu of each (yay). My Mon-Wed colleagues have to take 0.4 of a day out of their PTO for each public holiday that falls on Mon to make up the full day.

    It’s not perfectly fair, as I get more flexibility. But it means we all work the same number of days for our pay. The alternative where we just get holidays that fall on our working days would mean Wed-Fri workers getting 4 or 5 fewer days off a year, which seems even less fair.

  21. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I’m Jewish and I have never worked on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur (also of note: I’m Conservative, so for me, that’s two days of RH, plus 1.5 days for YK– a girl’s gotta eat before the holiday starts!). From what I hear, both here and from my friends, I’m pretty lucky– but it’s often required some juggling and losing already limited PTO. I worked at a huge company for 8 years, and they had two floating holidays, which really helped to alleviate the PTO burden. I also worked at one place where my (non-Jewish) boss didn’t think it was fair that I had to take PTO for the High Holidays, so she gave them to me free and clear. My last job refused to give me the days and had meager vacation time anyway, so I basically ended up with 6 or 7 days off in the year so I could save up. It sucked.

    This issue is so important to me that I brought it up when I got the offer for my current job. My job has 10 PTO days for the first year, but before I accepted my offer, I asked for the High Holidays off and I got them. (Two things helped with this: it’s a senior position and my boss is Jewish, which I knew because we scheduled our first interview around Yom Kippur.) Basically, I wish I had thought to negotiate around this sooner in my career. I sympathize a lot with the OP and want to remind her that this will come up every year, so it’s your job to keep it top of mind and work out the days off well in advance– your company certainly won’t think of it for you.

    1. Polaris*

      It does really depend on the place – I had to use PTO to take Thursday off, and I’d have had to use it also for Yom Kippur if it wasn’t on the weekend this year, but it’s still better accommodation than my last position, which also offered almost no vacation time, so I had to choose between taking off RH/YK or saving up time to visit my family on the other side of the country.

  22. Murphy*

    #3 seems like an argument for what my husband’s company does. They have no holidays. They have one bank of PTO for the year, and that’s their sick days, vacation days, and holidays. (There are days when the office is closed, but everyone gets a laptop and can work remotely.) So one person can work Christmas if they want to, and someone else can take their religion’s holidays, and everyone gets the same amount of time off.

    1. paul*

      I hope it’s a good amount of total PTO then, not just 10 or 12 days. I like those PTO banks in theory, but dang have I seen some of them where it amounts to “hey, lets cut total leave time by 2/3rds and call it a PTO bank!”

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      My employer does that (well, except for temps, who have no PTO *raises hand*). It works… as long as that PTO bank is rrreeeaaalllyyy generous.

      Unfortunately, my employer ALSO sends people home when there’s not enough work and *requires them to use their PTO to cover that*, which is outrageous. So you never know if your holidays, vacation or even sick time are actually going to BE there when you need them…

      1. sap*

        Making people use their sick time bank to cover slow days is ridiculous, but in hourly jobs I’ve had in the past it was usually “go home no paid time for this at all.”

        Do you get penalized for taking a sick day (unpaid) if your bank is empty? If so, that’s super egregious and I’m so sorry.

    3. MashaKasha*

      I want this so much.

      Pretty sure by federal law they would have to add whatever the number of mandated holidays is to their PTO bank.

        1. blackcat*

          There are in some states! Massachusetts doesn’t have days that are required to be off, but does have official holidays where hourly workers need to be paid more than the regular minimum wage (the same is true on Sundays).

          1. sap*

            I suspect the comment you are responding to is intended to correct @MashaKasha’s use of the term “federal” law, which is a very important distinction to clarify. Federal law applies regardless of what state you are in, so if people believe that there is such a thing as a “federally mandated” holiday, they may make demands and statements that are untrue when trying to negotiate for reasonable stuff–which harms their position.

        2. MashaKasha*

          Yikes, I did not know that :( Maybe some of the states have those. The two last companies I worked at, definitely gave the appearance of making sure they provide the same number of holidays every year, either in the form of paid holidays, or floating ones. The total number stayed the same through each company’s mergers/acquisitions, ie each new employer still provided the same total # of holidays. I’ll have to do some digging to find out where this number is coming from.

          1. paul*

            A lot of companies do that; even with my wife’s job (works at an airport), they get floating holidays vs regular holidays since airports are a 365 day a year type of thing. So they’re open every day but you get…I think it’s like 6 floating holidays ?

            Of course actually getting to take them during Christmas/Thanksgiving time is pretty hard because that’s when everyone wants them but…

            1. MashaKasha*

              I never hold on to mine until Christmas/Thanksgiving. I always use them first, because if I leave or am let go, I won’t be paid for them.

  23. KnittyinaBrowncoat*

    #1 We one had a co-worker promoted and my goodness did they drive us batty with their post promotion “I’m your boss now” attitude. Among other things they took it as a personal slight if someone called in. I was in the bathroom one day as they complained about how many people were calling in, specifically when she took the calls, just because they were taking advantage of the fact that there was history. In reality it was cold/flu season and everyone and their kiddos was just getting sick, new manager just got the calls now. I’m sure a few were of the fake sick variety, but no more than before the promotion. I reminded out new boss if this, they took offence at me “defending” my co-workers.
    All that to say, Alison’s phrasing is spot on. People can be sensitive when their imposter syndrome is running wild.

    Tl:dr Been there done that, use the script AaM gave you. People can be a little touchy post promotion no matter how well deserved.

    1. Talk To My Boss - OP#1*

      Hi there,
      Thank you for sharing that experience! My number one concern is Sarah taking offense for defending Heather. I’m glad to hear this script sounds to be both good and diffusing! Solidarity, KnittyinaBrowncoat – glad to hear I’m nto alone!

      1. Lora*

        You are right to be concerned. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t and the new manager will look back on it as part of their learning curve in a few years.

        I have a particularly awful one where I work, who was in fact promoted far above his competency level, and he was not receptive to the “I’m sure you don’t MEAN this but here’s how it comes across” talk. He’s now being moved to another role, but oh my goodness it was a painful six months of awkwardness. He was sent to a communication/management training class, which helped somewhat – is this something your workplace offers?

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Ugh. You’d think that people would be *more* self-confident after a promotion because of the recognition of their skills.

      (I admit I really lack sympathy for people who express their anxieties about their own performance by bullying their sick subordinates. That tells me they didn’t deserve the promotion and shouldn’t have authority over anyone.)

  24. Interview Exercises - OP*

    Hi everyone – I’m the original asker for the Interview Questions. Alison – thanks for answering my question! Glad to hear that this is in the range of normal. I guess part of my frustration was needing to put aside two hours during my long weekend, without being asked by the interviewer if this would be a problem. *shrug*
    Interested in hearing other people’s thoughts/opinions/experiences with exercises!

    1. Interview Exercises - OP*

      Also that it’s a lateral move for me – so I guess I could better understand if this was something outside my skillset. But as I mentioned in another comment – it was definitely helpful for me to get a hands-on experience with a day-to-day task, so I definitely see the use in it!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The thing is, assuming it’s not an internal move, they don’t know your work so it doesn’t matter that it’s a lateral move. Think of all the people you seen do their jobs at a not especially high level.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          +1 here. I’ve hired people with degrees in journalism and hired interns who about to enter their senior year j-school…and they could’t write! Like, hardly at all. How do you get to be a senior in journalism school – much less a graduate – without learning how to write at least fairly well and without learning the difference between it’s and its or their, there and they’re? No idea. But it’s happened more than once. The lesson is that just because somebody seems to have the qualifications, that doesn’t mean they are actually qualified. Tests are supposed to suss out who actually can do the things their experience says they are supposed to know how to do.

    2. Shadow*

      interviewers assume if you have an issue with completing the assignment you will raise it. they typically try to set the same deadline for everyone instead of negotiating deadlines with each candidate

  25. Mazzy*

    Oh I missed #5. When I hire, I’d prefer numbering the answers. Their request is most likely from receiving too many cover letters that read “I am a motivated self-starter who also works well on teams” and don’t say anything about the person, their history, what makes them different from other candidates, or why they are applying. It’s really hard to go through a couple of hundred wall-of-text cover letters that don’t say much, or are clearly written for another position. Actually, I think it’s pretty clever to ask for specific questions to be answered – though 7 seems like a lot. I’d probably ask for 2 or 3.

  26. Lily Rowan*

    I used to work for a Jewish/Christian interfaith organization, so the office was closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (basically instead of Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day as fall holidays), which was great! Great for me as a Christian, because they felt like random days off. Great for Jews for obvious reasons.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      See, that’s really cool. I admit that I love taking Christmas as my “day off from the world” (well, it was before I met my non-Jewish partner and we started attending his family’s Christmas festivities).

  27. Bea*

    #5 I’ve seen a fair amount of positions over the years posted with cover letter questions included. I think many use that format so they know you read the listing and can follow simple directions. So it is not an uncommon practice.

    I would need to know the questions, some could easily fold in whereas I would use bullet points for others.

    I’ve been in strictly accounting and office operations my entire career and those postings tend to get a lot of resumes sent in where the person clearly isn’t reading the requirements so in my crotchety old age I see the reason why these questions may seem necessary for the hiring manager to request!

  28. FormerOP*

    Hi OP#2, I have been on both sides of doing assignments as part of the interview process. For me, the litmus test is whether or not the work product is something that the organization will actually use in an essential way. Writing a press release for a fictionalized version of something that we did six months ago? Great. Writing a press release for an upcoming launch that someone could lightly edit and then send out? Ehhh, that sounds like unpaid work to me. It sounds like you are on the lookout for companies that make people do unpaid training, which is good. I wish I had been smarter about that because I got scammed at least once when I was younger!

  29. JacqOfAllTrades*

    My employer allows us to work on recognized holidays and bank them for use when we want. If someone wants to work on Christmas, they can. The office isn’t open, but our work isn’t customer-centric and most of us work independently of other employees so it works well. I realize that’s not the case with most employers, but it works really well here.

  30. Talk To My Boss - OP#1*

    Hi there! I’m the original poster for Question #1! I’m looking at everyone else’s responses right now. My first thought to the advice given is 1) Absolutely – I have no idea what has been officially said in those meetings between Sarah and Heather. And, I don’t believe Heather is 100% innocent – she has some things she does need to work on. And I know for a fact that Sarah is an excellent worker and a fair person. But the sheer volume of reprimands (at least once per week, and Heather always leaves crying) do lend to the suggestion that yes, the *perception* Sarah is creating is not good. 2) I also wonder about the approach. Solving the problem, for sure, is my desire, but I am afraid that my drawing attention to Heather’s discomfort and the perception of Sarah’s actions will not end well for Heather or myself. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Helpful*

      Could you try to be a listening ear to heather? Perhaps you could point her to this site if she is truly having work issues being brought up. You could also help her come up with a way to advocate for herself, rather than you do it for her. Teach a man to fish and all that.

      1. Helpful*

        Also, consider giving Sarah some time to get her managerial feet under her. There was a post recently about how the first year of managing is a bunch of learning/mistakes. This is likely one of them. It may be a case for her own boss to take up with her, not you.

    2. fposte*

      Well, there’s always the option of letting them work it out and not saying anything; that’s a legitimate one too.

      But there’s no way to stick your neck out without sticking your neck out :-). As Alison’s script suggests, the way to maximize effect and minimize vulnerability is to make this about the work practice of the unit, not about Sarah and Heather. Alternatively, you can make it about you–“The specter of the kind of public reprimands you’ve given Heather in the last few weeks is really throwing me off my work. Would it be possible to switch to a more private approach to correction for all of us?” I also think it’s important to keep Sarah’s history with you in perspective–you want to make sure it’s not sounding like you wouldn’t ask somebody who hadn’t been your same-level staffer recently.

    3. BananaPants*

      Not your business. If you don’t like Sarah’s management style, feel free to find a new position rather than working for her. But you don’t get to dictate how your boss manages another employee – especially when there are issues with the other employee’s work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She’s not trying to dictate it. She’s asking about giving her a heads-up that it’s causing morale problems on the team — which is something a good manager would want to know about, even if it doesn’t change how she manages Heather.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        …so objecting to abuse of authority is wrong, because it’s sticking your nose in where you don’t belong. Anything a boss does is fine because they’re the boss, and if you don’t like it go get another job. Right, got it.

        There’s never any shortage of power-tripping jerks who love to kick down, and never any shortage of people like you to defend them.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      Heather always leaves crying at least once a week?!

      Unless there are other serious problems going on in Heather’s life, or she’s an abnormally sensitive person… Sarah is a bully. It doesn’t matter if Heather’s work isn’t perfect. You shouldn’t have to be perfect to be treated with decency.

      I’ve had a couple of bosses like Sarah. They destroy your confidence and wreck your life. I ended up in the hospital because of one. The other one ended up being arrested for assaulting one of my coworkers.

      I’m really, really tired of cruel behavior being excused because the person doing it is in a position of power.

      I don’t know if you can do anything about this, OP. But know that what Sarah is doing is not OK, and let Heather know you recognize that and don’t blame her for it. That alone will mean a lot to Heather.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think that’s assuming a lot that we don’t know. There are people who cry every time they get feedback, no matter how nicely delivered. We’ve had letters about and from them here.

        I say this because I don’t think it’s helpful to frame things this way for the OP. Maybe Sarah is a bully. Or maybe Heather takes feedback really badly. More likely, if I had to guess, there are legitimate problems with Heather’s performance and Sarah, being a new manager, isn’t calibrating her tone and her approach correctly.

        1. a1*

          I was about to say something quite similar. Just because someone cries, doesn’t mean the person they were talking to were bullying or mean or any other negative adjective. Some people just cry easy – that’s neither good nor bad, but it’s just what it is. Without hearing these conversations, it’s hard to judge.

          1. LavaLamp*

            While that’s true; if Heather never cried before I’d wonder what was going on. I’m assuming the previous manager gave her feedback and she reacted normally to it which is probably why it’s so alarming to suddenly see her cry every week.

        2. sap*

          Chiming in to say that I’m mostly one of these people, if the feedback is about my performance generally rather than a completely no-fault change to a specific project (not something I did wrong–different direction stuff). I have the nicest boss in the whole world who gives insanely kind feedback, and I will still leak a bit even though it’s gotten much better as I age. I would be horrified if my involuntary physical responses were making my coworkers think my boss is abusive.

        3. LS*

          I also imagine Heather could be crying not about the severity of the feedback but about the perceived loss of her friendship with Sarah and the embarrassment of being managed by someone who used to be her peer, etc. She may have even wanted the promotion herself so there could be some of that mixed in. I can imagine lots of reasons why Heather might be having a more dramatic emotional reaction to this feedback than would seem reasonable to the average person if they heard it. Ultimately, we can only speculate since we weren’t in those meetings.

        4. (Another) B*

          Yeah Heather could be like me – a crier. I HATE it but it happens. I made some mistakes at work over the years and ended up getting upset – and it wasn’t bc my boss was a bully. It was just my nature.

      2. Anon This Time*

        Horse puckey. I’ve been struggling with a lot in the past year, and I have to fight to keep my stuff together after feedback from my boss. The feedback is delivered perfectly professionally; the problem is with me.

  31. Rae*

    We had two Jehovah’s Witnesses working for our company for a bit. And they threatened to sue because we closed the office for Christmas and New Year’s. It made no sense for the entire office to come in because honestly nothing would have happened. So the boss said sure, if you want to work go ahead. And they did, but complained that no one else was working. Did the same on the 4th of July. We deal with attorneys all day. Like they were going to call on a holiday! The two employees left not soon after, but that had nothing to do with the holiday issue. Our one Jewish employee takes off all the holy days, and our one Catholic employee takes off Good Friday. And nobody cares. The basic premise is take off when you need but don’t abuse it.

    However, we also close the office for other reasons if it’s obvious that nothing would happen. Like when the Royals were in the World Series. Or the Chiefs are on Monday Night Football. Or March Madness starts. Half days. You get the picture.

  32. Leah*

    Re #3 If companies actually gave employees a normal amount of time off, and not just the ridiculously low standard of two weeks, I think that this issue would pretty much go away. Imagine if OP (and everyone) had four weeks paid vacation each year. I’ve spent my working life taking all my PTO for the Jewish holidays. I’ve been married five years and never went on a honeymoon because I’ve never had more than a day off that wasn’t for a holiday. I truly don’t mind using PTO for holidays, it just really sucks to use ALL PTO for holidays when I’d be happy to work Christmas, New Year’s, etc.

  33. BananaPants*

    #1: This is none of your business and not your responsibility to solve. Sarah’s management of Heather is between the two of them.

    Being totally blunt, any manager I’ve ever had would laugh you out of their office for giving Alison’s script. Frankly, the terminology you’re using (“puffing out her chest”) makes you come across as jealous or resentful of your former-peer-now-supervisor. Sarah is your boss now, time to suck it up and accept it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, I really disagree (obviously). We’re talking about a brand new manager who used to be close to the OP. She might bristle, but laugh her out of the office? I don’t see that at all.

    2. LQ*

      If my manager laughed me out of the office for giving honest, thoughtful feedback that manager is a bad horrible manager. Even if I’m a bad, jealous, resentful employee.

      (I have actually given my boss similarish feedback, same tone, different kind of issue. He disagreed and asked me a bunch of questions. But he also changed his behavior and later thanked me because it helped with the problem. I have a good boss!)

    3. AW*

      I think the letter makes it clear that #1 is neither jealous nor resentful.

      I don’t get why you’re so certain that the LW is inventing this problem.

  34. Marcy Marketer*

    OP #1: I was in a similar situation at my last position. My manager was new to managing people and was really, unnecessarily aggressive to an employee who just got back from maternity leave. The way she delivered feedback was extremely poor and not, I think, likely to elicit any improvement in the employee’s performance. The employee began to hate work and I hated work too, having to listen to my coworker getting beaten down every day and her good ideas dismissed outright by my boss just because they were coming from the employee. I learned my manager was not good at giving feedback (not even to me), but the difference was that I was able to interpret or work around the feedback in a way that got me positive outcomes, while the other employee was not. It was a pattern where, if the new employee questioned the feedback, the boss cracked down harder because she couldn’t stand having her authority questioned, to the point where the employee couldn’t make any decisions herself and was totally micromanaged.

    Reading Ask a Manager helped me a lot during this time, and I would try to deliver helpful advice to both parties. It never worked– the other employee was never able to change her responses to the boss in a way that would get the boss to get off her case, and the boss was never able to manage the employee without coming down like a total jerk and seemingly wildly unfair (like my coworker would get in trouble for things I’d be allowed to do, so there’s not something I’m missing there). This employee eventually quit and the environment became much better. I strongly felt that with a management training program this manager would have had much more successful outcomes.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. A direct report should never be your BEC – or your punching bag.
      And doing this to someone who just came back from maternity leave? Gross.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        This, exactly. Being new at managing is really, really not an excuse for this behavior, and I’m disappointed by all of the people going out of their way to defend Sarah because managing is haaard. You know what’s harder? Being the punching bag (thank you!) for someone with a lot of power over your life.

      2. Marcy Marketer*

        Yeah, and actually the employee (and I) came to believe the treatment was partially because she was a new mother. The boss tried to tell her she couldn’t take pumping breaks, which is illegal where we live. The whole relationship just went even more downhill after that. And then also the boss was really miffed that the employee was not available weekends, despite that not being a requirement of the job before she left for maternity leave, or when the employee had to take a sick day because of the baby being sick and not welcome at daycare. I told this person to start documenting and file an EEOC complaint, but it never came to that.

  35. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    This is another reason why I’m a big fan of unlimited PTO policies. It allows everyone the freedom to work out their schedules around holidays and whatnot.

  36. Phoenix Programmer*

    #3 I honestly do not get the complaints about this sort of thing … to me it’s a free day off. Of course I haven’t actually worked anywhere that did not also drawdown PTO for holidays. Everywhere I have worked has been the one bucket sort. So I just can’t see myself getting upset if the free days off I get did not fall on ideal days for me.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        In his letter he wrote the office is closed and they don’t deduct PTO. That is a free day off.

        I get zero of these. Every holiday requires PTO. So I really don’t understand complaining when free days off aren’t the ones you would personally pick.

    1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

      Yom Kippur starts Friday night this year; for example I’m taking my company’s floating holiday for travel to see my family.

    2. SpaceySteph*

      I usually take at least a half day off on the day before Yom Kippur because I gotta make a bunch of food and stuff it in my face before sundown.

  37. LS*

    OP2, for my current job I needed to complete an activity (“case study”) in my own time and then present back to the hiring manager. The case study took me about 7 hours. I could probably have done it in 3-4 hours, but it was still a lot of work. On the plus side – the amount of effort I’d put was apparent and it was one of the reasons I was offered the job. So I guess it would depend on how much you want that position.

    OP3, I feel your pain. I need to take *6* days of paid leave for the upcoming chagim. It would be nice to have just one or two of them covered by the company, but in the 8 companies I’ve worked for, only 1 has offered additional leave specifically for religious holidays :-/

  38. MugsMars*

    I cannot believe how many people think that if Jewish/Muslim/Other Religion get holidays off, it’s unfair because they get extra days. People take those days off to observe their holidays, which often include hours and hours at their temple, fasting, praying, mourning…etc. It’s no walk in the park.

    Meanwhile, almost everyone gets Christmas off, but with no celebrating or church to be done, they must be content to stay at home with no stores, shops, or other facilities open for them to use. Just because it’s the norm, doesn’t mean it’s ideal, fair, or equal.

    1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*


      I don’t want to pick on you on this, but there’s an implicit suggestion in what you’re saying: that non-Christian holidays “only count” if the person claiming them has a certain amount of observance.

      A lot of people may be aware of Sandy Koufax, the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, who refused to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. However, there are cases of other Jewish baseball players who have not refused to play on Yom Kippur because, to paraphrase, they felt they weren’t observant enough to justify taking that one day off. As if unless you observe every holiday, you can’t be justified in claiming a specific one. (Yom Kippur especially–it’s literally the most significant holiday in the calendar.)

      Basically, what I’m saying is, the way you phrased that makes me ask: would the complaints about “extra days off” would be valid if it turned out that the person taking the day didn’t go to temple or mourn or fast or anything?

      Even though nobody ever polices whether Christians are doing the same thing on Christmas, and yet that day off is generally assumed?

      1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

        To tie this back to the underlying point from the letter: as a Jew, mostly nonreligious–but as indicated above I’m taking my floating holiday for erev Yom Kippur this year–I would have no problem being told that I needed to take PTO…but if I got the answer the way the Letter Writer did, I would be seriously concerned about the respect my company had for my religion/ethnicity/cultural practice.

        (Those being generally very intertwined for Jews.)

    2. Temperance*

      Okay, but here’s the thing: they’re getting paid time off from work to do these things. So even if these things are considered obligations of faith, and might be onerous, I don’t think that the workplace should decide that it’s not really a break because fasting is hard (for example).

      I also don’t understand your second point, since a.) Christians generally do go to church on Christmas and b.) plenty of places are open, like movie theaters.

      1. nonegiven*

        Do Christians generally go to church on Christmas? When I was little we went every Sunday and on Easter we had to wear hats and gloves. I have never in my life been to church on Christmas. Is it particular churches and not others that do that?

        1. LadyKelvin*

          Yeah I’d say most Christians go to church on Christmas or Christmas Eve (after sundown). In my particular sect its one of the two that even non-practicing people go to and its a big ordeal. Creaster Catholics exist for a reason (Christmas/Easter if you aren’t familiar). Its also a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics (which means you are obligated to go to church even moreso than on a regular Sunday).

          I remember my least favorite years were when Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, then we went to regular church in the morning and Christmas Eve mass in the evening. SO MUCH CHURCH

      2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

        When I was a kid 20 years ago, we used to go to the movies every year on Christmas Day, and take advantage of the fact that we were nearly the only ones there (like many Jewish families — it’s even in that song!). In recent years when we’ve tried to go, it’s been super crowded. I’m not sure what kind of shift in demographics or religious practice has taken place in my hometown in the past couple of decades, but it’s pretty striking.

  39. nonprofit writer*

    #2, this is really common for NGOs, in my experience, especially if there is writing involved.

    I don’t think 3 hours total on writing exercises is unreasonable. I was once asked to do hours and hours worth of sample writing over the course of a week (!) as part of an interview process, and I ultimately withdrew from consideration for the job because of it (though I never told the organization why–perhaps I should have).

  40. OP #4*

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison – honestly, what you said is pretty much what I was thinking. My job search is pretty amorphous right now and very stalled, so it’s easy to feel like I should take any opportunity to expand my network in any direction that’s offered and just make. it. fit. Ideally, I’d love to just dump my resume on someone’s desk and say “what do YOU think I can do with this???”, which is obviously not an option, particularly with strangers! Right now, I am just trying to learn more about the scope of the work these people do and truly evaluate whether there’s anything about it that I genuinely would be interested in actively pursuing, as well as craft a reasonable update to my Twitter-quaintance so she doesn’t think I’ve totally flaked.

  41. Betsys*

    For those who are planning events and trying to avoid major Jewish holidays – one important detail to know is that Jewish holidays always start at sundown the night before. So for example the first night of Passover is a huge deal involving a big meal and a lot of preparation , so the day *before* Passover is going to be a no-go for most Jews who will be either preparing or traveling. Same with Yom Kippur, which starts at sundown but services start earlier and people need to eat before services.

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