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Religious Festivals in the Workplace – How to Support Your Employees

Thankfully, workplaces have become more diverse places. But employers need to make sure that they facilitate and support the diverse ways in which people celebrate their religion – that is true inclusion.

One of the ways is being aware that there are a range of religious festivals throughout the year which may be observed by those working in the company. As a country we often still default to the Christian religious festivals and our bank holidays are, in part, spaced around these, but you should bear in mind that other team members may not celebrate these festivals and may have their own significant dates. For example, Muslims are currently observing Ramadan during which they will be fasting until Eid and Passover is being celebrated next week etc.

Whilst it is difficult to be aware of all religious festivals which may affect your workforce, there are things you could do as a company to ensure you are not discriminating against those who are observing a religious festival throughout the working year.

Discrimination Risks

Under the Equality Act 2010, religion and belief is one of the nine protected characteristics.

There are 4 types of discrimination:

  • Direct Discrimination – where you treat an employee less favourably than others because of their religion or belief.
  • Indirect Discrimination – where you put a provision, criterion or practice in place that indirectly disadvantages an employee of a particular religion or belief without being able to objectively justify it (in that it is not proportionate to achieving a legitimate aim).
  • Harassment – where one employee (A) engages in unwanted conduct related to another employee’s (B) religion or belief and the conduct has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
  • Victimisation – where an employee suffers a detriment because they have made or intend to make a religion or belief discrimination complaint under the Equality Act.

The main risks when we think about religious festivals could be either refusing time off to observe religious festivals (which could be direct discrimination) or having specific policies around booking time off in advance or at certain times, which could be indirectly discriminatory if this disadvantages those who require certain time off (sometimes last minute) for religious reasons.

Time off

There is no automatic right for an employee to have time off to observe religious festivals.

However, if an employee requests annual leave for a religious festival, you should seek to accommodate their request if they have annual leave, and it is reasonable i.e. it does not affect the company if the employee is off during this time.

If you are requiring all employees to take time off during a certain period i.e. during Christmas, you should consider whether this is indirectly discriminating employees who need annual leave for another religious holidayas they do not celebrate Christmas.

Celebration

You may want to consider whether you want to facilitate further inclusion and education by inviting some employees to have the opportunity to share how they observe/celebrate religious festivals. Most companies do secret Santa around Christmas time, so it’s not unusual for companies to do something around otherwise religious occasions.

Only you know whether this would be perceived as engaging or patronising, in your organisation. Take a view on your company culture and what engagement you could expect, and perhaps ask people about potential involvement rather than dictating it.

Five Top Tips / Best Practices

  1. Check your policies in relation to annual leave, working hours and rest breaks to ensure they are not too restrictive otherwise they could be potentially indirectly discriminating!
  2. Try to accommodate employees who wish to take time off to observe religious festivals if is reasonable (this may vary depending on how long they need off).
  3. Consider having a Religious Festival Policy as this is likely to help employees feel they can ask for time off and create a more inclusive working environment.
  4. Be mindful that when an employee observes a religious festival, they may not necessarily need time off but flexibility in their work i.e. Muslims who work night shifts may want to vary their hours during Ramadan so that they can break their fast.
  5. Avoid scheduling meetings or team days on such days/times to accommodate any religious staff.

Did you know we provide outsourced HR services to businesses?

Using Thrive’s HR services makes your life easier; we provide you with quick and most importantly, correct HR decisions so your staff management is stress-free and sufficient. We take care of everything. From drafting contracts and handbooks tailored to your business to advising and supporting you through redundancies. There is no limit to our knowledge, if you have an HR question, our qualified solicitors have the answer for you. We are always one phone call away.

Why should you outsource your HR services to solicitors? Getting your HR services from a solicitor means, should a case ever proceed to tribunal everything we have ever discussed is protected by attorney client privilege meaning all conversations are protected. Whereas if you were to use a HR consultant, all conversations and documentations regarding that employee would be disclosable in tribunal.

Get in touch today to invest in your business and make your HR stress free. Contact us.

Disclaimer

Please note this blog is for reference purposes only and is only accurate at which the date it was published. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any actions. Please contact us if you have any questions on enquiries@thrivelaw.co.uk.

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