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Eid al-Adha: dealing with religious festivals in the workplace

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Eid al-Adha (known as the festival of sacrifice), the Islamic holiday marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage, is due to begin this coming Tuesday (21 August). The festival is celebrated with prayer and feast, typically on a large scale with Muslims in their respective communities coming together to partake in the festivities. Many Muslims may request time off work to celebrate Eid al-Adha, so here are a few considerations for employers to bear in mind as the holiday approaches:

  • Whilst there is no legal requirement to observe religious holidays, it is best employment practice to accommodate holiday requests, maintaining a consistent approach, in order to avoid allegations of discrimination. Where an employee has sufficient holiday entitlement, employers should generally grant the requested leave provided that it is reasonable for the employee to be absent during this time. Failing that, unpaid leave should also be considered for employees who do not have sufficient holiday entitlement.
  • If you are considering how to deal with holidays, you might also want to think about other issues such as providing space for prayer. When it comes to religious observance within the workplace, if an employee has requested a quiet place for prayer and there is an appropriate room available, then employers are encouraged to allow it to be used in such a manner. Employers that refuse to allow such use of a quiet room, where there would be no disruption to the business or to other employees, could face allegations of discrimination because of religion or belief. Additionally, flexi-time working arrangements should be utilised where possible to allow employees to participate in their religious traditions during the working day. Refusing to accommodate religious requests without a legitimate reason or in a disproportionate manner could be construed as less favourable treatment.
  • It is good practice to consult with all employees before designating a place to be used for prayer and to discuss policies/rules surrounding its use. An example given in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Code of practice  is for an employer to convert a small meeting room into a quiet room. The EHRC Code also endorses a flexible approach towards breaks, particularly on or around religious festivals and periods of fasting.