The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from all kinds of discrimination (direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation) due to a specific religion or belief they hold, as this is a protected characteristic.
Provided a claim is brought within 3 months from the last act of discrimination, there is no minimum length of employment required for a claim to be made, just a belief that the employee was discriminated against because of their religious beliefs – job applicants, workers and employees all are protected.
For all Muslims, praying is of the utmost importance as it is the second pillar of Islam. The purpose of these prayers forms our direct communication with God each day, not only to provide spiritual benefit but an inner cleansing of the mind. The five daily prayers that Muslims perform are:
- Fajr (morning prayer)
- Duhur (early afternoon prayer)
- Asr (late afternoon prayer)
- Maghrib (evening prayer)
- Isha (night prayer)
These prayers usually last between 5-10 minutes when prayed individually and can take a little longer when prayed in congregation. Muslim men usually pray a special Friday prayer known as Jumah in congregation in a mosque, when and where possible.
Each prayer must be prayed within its allocated time (of course, there are exceptions for those individuals who cannot take this time off and so these may be prayed collectively at the end of the day should this be necessary) and the allocated time changes according to the season and daylight hours. This means that during winter, when the days are much shorter, two to three short prayer breaks at work may be required and during the Summer, when the days are much longer, one to two prayer breaks may be required at work.
Muslim employees may therefore ask for a quiet and clean space to undertake these prayers in private. Whilst employers are not required to make costly adjustments for religious practices at work, refusal to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate Muslim employees in this respect may amount to indirect discrimination. Some employers will have a designated prayer room if they have the space to do so. However, if a designated prayer room cannot be offered, a clean and quiet space will be adequate.
When employers hire employees from different religious backgrounds, they should ensure they understand the relevant practices that may come along with this faith. This could be achieved by simply approaching an employee and asking if they have any specific requirements in the context of their faith and how may be best to cater to this.
If you are an employer and are aware you have Muslim employees, ask yourself these questions:
- Do they need a place to pray?
- If so, how often?
- If there is no designated prayer room, where would be appropriate?
- Can you designate a prayer room?
By asking these questions, employees will not only feel accommodated but will feel at ease in practising their religion at work. Unless there is a legitimate business reason, not accommodating employees with a place to pray or allowing breaks around prayer time means employers open up risk to liability and the utmost care must be undertaken in these circumstances.
Written by Maab Saifeldin
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