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Jugglers have long fought for job flexibility to handle family needs. Now, time off for religious observances is becoming a hot issue too.

In the past few months alone, such disputes have surfaced from New York to Tennessee. In one case, a Nashville hospital settled federal discrimination charges over its refusal to let a Muslim medical technician take 20 days' accumulated vacation time to visit Mecca; the hospital denied any wrongdoing. In another, a policeman in New York state was given Friday nights and Saturdays off to observe sabbath as a Seventh-day Adventist, just as a Jewish co-worker was allowed. Federal law prohibits employers from singling out workers for worse treatment because of their religion.

A New York reader raises a sensitive time-off question in a recent "Work & Family Mailbox" column. A family member, an observant Jew who can't work Saturdays or Jewish holidays, wants to apply for a government job that requires 24/7 availability for shift work. Is there any law that requires the agency to accommodate his beliefs? the reader asks.

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