Cultural and Religious Observances

Williams staff and faculty,

Beginning on July 1, 2021, staff may take scheduled time off for cultural and religious holidays and observances without that time counting against earned paid time off. This pilot program was developed with significant input from the Staff Advisory Council, and we thank them for their advice. We hope the new approach will give you more flexibility to take time off in accordance with your spiritual and cultural traditions, and reaffirm the college’s commitment to a multicultural and inclusive environment.

In the new fiscal year, staff should use the new “Cultural or Religious Observation” code for this purpose when reporting time in PeopleSoft, just like you use existing codes for sick, personal, or vacation time. There will also be an optional field where you can add a note explaining your observance if you would like to, but it won’t be required.

The code will be treated as sensitive personnel information. Neither the HR department nor the college will use the resulting data during salary or severance negotiations. This information also can’t be invoked in grievance processes unless it’s central to the nature of the grievance.

As a reminder of where we’re starting from, the college’s current policy gives staff members just one floating holiday per year. Current leave policies make no mention of cultural or religious observances and our holiday policy only references college-wide holidays. Discussions after last year’s Juneteenth holiday, among others, made clear that the college needed to offer flexibility beyond our list of college-wide holidays. As a starting point, you may want to view the Chaplains’ Multifaith Religious Calendar, which includes many recognized cultural observances.

In parallel, we’re defining a set of expectations and resources for managers to encourage respectful discussion of personal holidays and observances. Managers, look for further details from HR soon, but we encourage you to start talking with your teams about the policy now and to make sure your existing time-off request processes are in alignment with this new option. If requests from multiple staff create challenges for filling essential functions, you should take the matter to your own supervisor to see if the issue can be resolved in a way that allows everyone the needed time off.

We’re intentionally launching this new option as a pilot. At the end of the year, we’ll review how many days were taken with this code to try to understand the impact of the policy on individual employees and college units; we will use that data to inform ongoing policy.

We welcome your feedback and hope this pilot gives you the flexibility you need to observe days of religious and cultural importance, no matter your faith, beliefs, or background.


Danielle Gonzalez
Director of Human Resources

Ngonidzashe Munemo
Interim Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Professor of Political Science