Introduction to this document

Letter rejecting time off for religious festival

Use our letter to reject an employee’s request for special time off for a religious festival or holiday. Unless you contractually provide for time off work in this situation, you’re within your rights to turn the request down, provided you act consistently across all of the religions. Our letter advises the employee to alternatively use their annual leave entitlement.

No statutory right

Unless you’ve granted them a contractual right under the terms of a religious observance or leaves of absence policy, there’s no statutory right for employees to take either paid or unpaid special time off work to celebrate religious festivals or enjoy religious holidays, regardless of whatever their particular religion or belief may be. The Equality Act 2010 simply doesn’t go that far. So, turning down a request for special time off isn’t religious discrimination, provided you adopt a consistent approach and treat all your employees equally i.e. you don’t favour or penalise particular religions or beliefs. Our Leaves of Absence Policy provides that employees should use their paid annual leave entitlement to observe religious holidays, whilst at the same time making clear that being granted time off as annual leave is subject to the terms of your Holidays Policy and business need, and so isn’t an automatic right.

Indirect religious discrimination

A refusal without good reason to accommodate an employee’s request to take time off as paid annual leave to celebrate a religious festival or enjoy a religious holiday could amount to indirect religious discrimination though. Indirect discrimination can be objectively justified, provided you can show that a refusal to grant the employee’s request for annual leave is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, if you can show that granting annual leave at a particular time would create problems for the business, such as leaving you under-staffed because of time off that’s already been approved for other employees or because it’s a peak time for the business when you don’t grant annual leave requests, your refusal may be justified. The important thing is to be fair and consistent in how you approve all annual leave requests.

Letter wording

Our Letter Rejecting Time Off for Religious Festival provides that special leave is only exceptionally granted and this doesn’t include time off to celebrate religious festivals and holidays. It then states that the employee can use their paid annual leave entitlement to take the time off should they wish to do so, provided they comply with your procedure for requesting annual leave and it’s approved in advance by their line manager. Our Leaves of Absence Policy confirms that the granting of paid annual leave is always subject to the needs of the business, including for adequate staffing and management levels to be maintained at all times, so we’ve repeated these conditions in our letter. This again avoids giving the impression that being granted annual leave is an automatic right in these circumstances.