How To Handle A Tricky, Interpersonal Work Situation

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Dear Miriam,

My workplace is open on Saturdays, and I have a religious accommodation so that I don’t work on Shabbat. This was set up when I started my job and rarely causes issues because I take other unwanted shifts like late weeknights and other popular vacation days. However, a coworker just submitted a request that would also exempt her from working on weekends so that she can care for a family member, and her request was denied. How do I handle this interpersonally at work?


No Shifts on Shabbat


Dear Shifts,

The best possible interpersonal way to handle this is by not addressing it at all. You have accommodations – set up at the same time as you began your employment – that are essential for your religious observance. I have no doubt that your coworker’s needs are important, too, but the issues are separate, they have no bearing on each other, and there’s probably nothing either of you can say about your days off that won’t cause some discomfort or hard feelings.

Instead, focus on being the best possible coworker you can be, regardless of who is working which days. Ask after her family member, compliment her work, and go out of your way to be kind and supportive. Do this because it’s the right thing to do, not because you get Saturdays off and she doesn’t. If taking one of those unwanted weekday shifts would help her out, do that. If offering to bring a meal to her at work that she can bring home to share with her family feels in line with your work relationship, do that, too. 

You can empathize with the insufficiencies of American support systems and health care and family leave and you can advocate for those policies to be better at your place of employment and beyond. You can show support for your co-worker in all kinds of ways and hope that some of your other co-workers will rally around her and maybe even offer to work on Saturdays in her place. 

If the inevitable comes up, and either she or another colleague points out that you never have to work on Saturdays, you can explain how this came to be part of your employment package, or you don’t have to. You can explain Shabbat and when it is and how it functions in your life, or you can simply say, “These are the days that are written into my contract.” You don’t have to apologize or be defensive, and since you’re not going to work on Saturdays, feeling bad about it accomplishes nothing and certainly isn’t part of a solution for her situation. Instead, focus on the interpersonal parts you can control, like being a good person and a good co-worker, and hope that others do the same for her.

Be well,