Happy New Year!
I know time flies when you’re having fun, but it is only September, so perhaps a bit premature to be celebrating the end of the year!
Well not necessarily – for my friends and family in the Jewish community, we’re entering the “High Holy” days, starting with Jewish New Year. Like all Jewish holidays, there is a food associated with it (apart from Yom Kippur when you fast – so it’s several hours of stuffing yourself with anything, followed by 25 hours of nothing, followed by several hours of stuffing yourself with anything again and feeling sick!), and Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with apple and honey, for a sweet new year.
Although I have never worked for a Jewish company, I live and work in very Jewish areas, and have often worked with Jewish colleagues, or people who have been close to the community for so long that you’d be forgiven for assuming they were Jewish. Even things like seeing them polish off a bacon sandwich wouldn’t make you think otherwise, given how flexible people can be on their interpretation of the rules!
So, it was no surprise that I ended up working with a lovely woman who insisted that she had off all the Jewish holidays in addition to her 20 days’ holiday pay as part of her package. She also wanted to leave early on Fridays. My boss at the time (who was Jewish) happily agreed and she started work as his PA.
Which meant it was quite a shock when it came to light that she was not even remotely Jewish and had no religious interests at all. Her rationale was that she had previously worked for a very religious Jewish company where she had been for some years, and so had always had the extra time off, and had become accustomed to it, and if she was going to leave them to work for us, she wanted the same terms. Her argument was that she had never lied to anyone – she never pretended to be Jewish, she was never asked if she was Jewish and once she started with us, she never tried to hide her true identity. My boss, on the other hand argued that she never explained why she wanted the extra time off, and if he had challenged this, he would have been accused of being discriminatory. He felt she had misled us, and he would never have agreed to her request if he’d known, because of the precedent it set to others.
Not exactly a sweet situation!
Ultimately it was a defining moment in their relationship as each felt that the other was being unreasonable, and that therefore they couldn’t work together, and she left. Whilst I felt she was a loss to the business, and it was a lost opportunity for her, we were employing several hundred staff of varying religious backgrounds which already created difficulties when trying to accommodate and respect everyone’s needs whilst remaining operational, so having a clear policy on holidays was important.
I did understand how difficult my boss found it to get information from candidates without overstepping the mark in terms of asking inappropriate questions, so we came up with some guidelines for him to use, which I still use to this day with good results.
If anyone wants to know what the guidelines are and how to use them, the charge is a gin and tonic – with a slice of apple it in, but no honey!
Kleyman & Co Solicitors. The full service law firm. Wishing you all a happy and sweet new year, whether you’re Jewish or not!