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TheStreet Open House

How to Get Your Religion and Your Job to Coexist in Peace

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- No matter if you celebrate Christmas, Passover, Diwali or Vesak, multiple requests for time off from work for "devotional" purposes can result in an angry boss or dismissal.

Of course it's almost always possible to take time off for religious reasons, but just how much is up for debate. We checked in with experts who offered some clarity on the work vs. worship question.

Every company's policy is different, says Richard Cohen, partner at the national law firm Fox Rothschild. While some companies will require that employees use their vacation time for days spent in worship, others may ask that employees take those days as unpaid time or make up for the lost hours by altering their schedule throughout the week.

"If an employer can reasonably accommodate a person who needs to be off on the Sabbath, then they must do so," Cohen says. "The cases we see in court typically revolve around people working on the Sabbath -- a day that your religion requires you to be off."

That distinction -- the religious "requirement" to be worshipping rather than working -- is an important one, Cohen says. For example, Christians are not required to attend and worship at a relative's baptism, just as Jews are not required to attend and worship at a relative's bar mitzvah. Both religions are required to keep the Sabbath holy, though. If your religion doesn't require you to be in worship on a particular day, your employer isn't technically required to give you that day off. With that said, most employers that value their staff will work to accommodate all requests.

"If you're not making an excessive amount of requests, then you're not creating undue hardship for your employer," Cohen says. "If you want to leave at 3 p.m. on Friday for worship and you offer to work an extra half hour every day that week leading up to it, that's a reasonable request. But if you start asking to be off three days a week and your employer is faced with an excessive number of absences, then it's going to be a burden for them to accommodate you."

As for whether your employer will make you take vacation days for your worship time, every company is different, says Wendy Patrick, attorney and author of the New York Times best-seller Reading People.

"Some companies want to showcase their amenability," she says. "They try to honor days off that employees want and they won't make them burn vacation -- they'll help the employee rearrange their schedule to fit."

Ultimately though, if you want a lot of days off for worship, it's going to come out of your store of personal days, vacation days, or sick days -- or you simply won't get paid, Cohen says.

"If you want every holiday on the religious calendar off, then that's going to add up to a lot of days, and if you run out of vacation days, you're going to end up taking unpaid time off. There is no requirement for an employer to pay you if you're not working," he says.

The best way to avoid friction with your employer is to be upfront and honest about how much time you're going to need off, Patrick says. Whenever you have a moment to sit down with your manager, it's best to lay out all your requests well in advance.

"Your employer needs to understand how your religious beliefs may affect your schedule and the day-to-day operations at the company," Patrick says. "As soon as you know you're going to need these accommodations, you have to lay all your cards out on the table -- don't wait until a week before you need to be off."

Without enough warning, your manager could feel like they got the "bait and switch," Patrick says.

"You can't just take any day you want. If you are the only person who can do a certain job, then your employer has to have a plan in place for how your time off won't disrupt productivity."

Employees who may be hoping to take worship days indiscriminately need to temper their expectations, Cohen says.

"There will be situations where employers don't have the availability to rearrange everyone's schedules for you. Some employers are only open 40 hours a week, and you just won't have any leeway there."

The good news for people who typically find themselves needing more than the usual time off for worship is that technology is making it more possible than ever before to have a flexible schedule.

"We live in a day and age where telecommuting has made work/life balance more a reality than ever before," Patrick says. "Thanks to technology, it's a lot easier for employers to offer reasonable accommodation to their staff than it was just five or 10 years ago."

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