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From the September 20, 2002 print edition

Whose holy day is it?

Employers cope with diverse religious observances

David Goll   East Bay Business Times

As the workplace has become more religiously diverse, firms have tried to devise ways for their Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, Muslim, Jewish or Baha'i employees — indeed, all non-Christians — to take time off to observe their holidays.

"Most organizations today have become pretty good about handling non-Christian holidays, and certainly Jewish holidays are not a new issue in the American workplace," said Julie O'Mara, principal of O'Mara & Associates in Castro Valley, which works with major employers on issues of diversity.

Most companies offer personal time off — typically two to four days a year which can be used by employees for any reason.

"Sometimes, non-Christian holidays or observances are just not on the radar of a company's human resources department or senior management," said O'Mara, a big fan of "diversity calendars" distributed by some employers to managers or to the entire work force.

Pleasanton-based Safeway Inc. is one of those companies. Each year, Safeway passes out calendars that include up to two dozen well-known, as well as more obscure, religious observances each month.

In highly diverse high-tech, being respectful of all religious traditions is vital, said Joe Gabbert, executive vice president of worldwide human resources for Documentum Inc. The Pleasanton-based software firm gives its nearly 1,000 employees worldwide two "floating holidays" yearly.

"We have many Hindu and Muslim employees, and they definitely make use of these days for religious observances," he said. "A number of our employees also use the floating days to take off Martin Luther King Day in January."

Some of Documentum's Roman Catholic employees take off Good Friday, while African-American personnel use the days off to observe Kwanzaa.

"We, as employers, have to be more flexible today," he said.

Sybase Inc. of Dublin allows its 4,310 worldwide workers to take either personal days, unused holidays or accrued vacation for any purpose, including religious observances, says Nita White-Ivy, its vice president of worldwide human resources.

©Copyright 2002, Sacramento Business Journal

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