How Can I Get My Boss To Honor Religous Absence?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about release for religious holidays: My manager signed off on this. When I called in to inform I was in a musical play this Easter, HR manager said I should show up for work.

I participate in a musical for my church every Easter and Christmas. Because of this I filled out an availability form with my employer, indicating that I could not work before 1:00 p.m. on Sundays. My department manager signed off on it and it was entered into my file.

This Easter on the instructions of my Human Resource Manager I called in two hours early and informed my store manager that I planned to take the day off When asked why, I told him honestly that it was Easter Sunday and explained about the Musical.

He informed me that as a responsible adult I had an obligation to the company. I told him I couldn’t tell an entire Church on the day of the Musical it was off. I would be glad to come in late and could be there by 2:00 p.m. He said he didn’t need me at 2:00 he needed me to work my shift 9:00 to 6:00. I said I was following HR’s procedure. He said do what you have to do and hung up. Can I lose my job over this?

Signed, Musician for God

DearĀ God’s Muscian:

Can you lose your job over this? Possibly, but not probably. Why? Because your department manager signed off on the availability form. Might you be fired for some other reason? In some states, an employee can be fired for a good reason or no reason, especially when there is no union contract. In your workplace, the availability form and HR instructions on calling in should protect you.

This incident and phone hang up on you, however, is part of a career learning curve. Reflect on why your manager was upset about being informed two hours in advance that you could not come on Easter Sunday? Wow! That could make him squirm. What if others, upon whom he counted, would do the same? Get the point?

Frequent and well in advance communication is vital to the cooperative nature of organizational life. That entails building good will by helping your manager manage–helping him or her to know what is necessary to make things run smoothly. Might doing more than following the rules, by walking in another’s shoes, transform a boss-bossed relationship to what you might think of as a Golden Rule partnering relationship? Might that kind of communication make joyful music where you work?

Take time to scan the many Q&As in our Archive. Questions, like yours, are there to share in workplace learning–helping each other earn the right to be part of the solution to workplace success. I call that WEGO mindedness. Do feel free to keep us posted on your learning. This experience is sort of a P.S. to your Easter sermon.

Second Opinion Hello! Dr. Gorden shared your question and his response so I could add my thoughts. A short story: When I was first employed I became accustomed to being off on Thursdays and rarely looked at the schedule to verify my exact work days; although it was posted a month in advance. Twice my employer had to call me to ask where I was, because I was scheduled to work on those Thursdays due to special needs. Both times I said I didn’t realize my days had been changed.

The second time he said, “You probably think I post that schedule just to show my art work, but that isn’t true. That schedule tells me and you and everyone else when you’ll be here to do what you need to do to get the paycheck you want to get. I suggest you study it closely in the future and present yourself for work when it indicates. Understood?” I understood.

When I became a supervisor and manager I had to give the same speech to a few people who simply did not understand how vital it was to have an adequate number of employees working; and how the vital the schedule was for making sure everyone knew what was expected of them, while letting me know what I could depend upon from them. So, the first issue here has to do with work in general. This was likely a good learning experience for you and I hope you will let your manager know that. I’ll mention that in a moment.

Dr. Gorden is correct that your HR director’s sign-off may provide protection for your work situation this time. However, you need to be certain exactly what your employer’s rules are about this matter. Not what you were told verbally, but what is in writing. And your best source for your work requirements is your manager or supervisor, not an HR person who has no direct contact with the necessity to have the workplace open and fully staffed. For example, some availability provisions allow you to be placed on a list of employees who can request certain times off and it must be granted. Others say you will not ever be required to work at certain times each week. Still others only verify that if you are asked to work you can opt out at certain times, based on the pre-approved availability provision.

Even the term, availability implies an issue with scheduling; which is usually done in advance. The ideal time to have said something was before the schedule was going to be made, so the manager would be able to schedule around you. The next best time was when you saw the schedule and realized an error had been made. Calling in a couple of hours before time to go to work, except in an emergency, would not be acceptable in any business. Another issue is that if you never were able to work before 1 p.m., your manager would be accustomed to not scheduling you. It appears that you do, in fact, work other Sundays. So, apparently it is only these two times a year when your schedule is different. That makes it much more necessary for you to notice whether or not you were scheduled when you intended to be off. Even if no schedule was posted, it would have been your responsibility to warn your manager in advance that you were going to be working a different schedule that day. If he would have refused to acknowledge that, THEN you would have been correct to go to HR and ask for their assistance about availability.

If your manager knew very well that you did not intend to be there at that time, he bears part of the blame. But he could very well say he thought he was mistaken, since you never said anything to him about it. But that’s over now and you are still there and need to make sure your job is secure. I would suggest you talk to your manager directly and honestly and with a tone of apology. Let him know why you misunderstood and how sorry you were that it worked out that way. Tell him you will not make that mistake again and you will let him know well in advance about any situations like that in the future.

Be sure you tell him that you value your job and want to do well, so this bothered you. I’m not implying that you have to grovel. Your manager may not be the kind of person you like very well, or he or she may be someone you respect. I’m just saying you are the one who wants to solidify your job and he is the one who had to deal with your absence, so he has the upper hand on this one. If you don’t read this until after an encounter with your manager, it is still not too late. Go to him and tell him you have thought a lot about it and want to make sure he understands that your intention is to have a reputation for good work, so you will make every effort to strengthen that reputation in the future.

Then, be the kind of employee who makes this just a glitch in your manager’s work life, not a major issue. Most managers are accustomed to occasional glitches. They just don’t want them to become a habit. The manager, who had to chide me years ago, became a strong supporter of mine; and one day I was his boss! I’m sure he smiled to see me worrying about schedules!

As a side note, those of us who need special accommodation for faith-based activities, such as church programs, need to be particularly careful that in our efforts to do the right thing, we do not send a bad message to others about the kind of person we are and what we represent. The Bible says quite a lot about workmen; and it always emphasizes the importance of being dependable. Best wishes as you deal with this. If you are open and concerned in your conversations about it, you will likely be able to get through it without serious problems. If you have time and wish to do so, let us know what happened.

Tina Lewis Rowe and William Gorden