Introduction to this document

Religious observance policy

Our policy explains how you will support employees who observe certain religious practices. Refusing to accommodate a request for time off for religious observance might amount to indirect religious discrimination, unless you can justify your decision.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects workers against direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of any religion, religious belief or philosophical belief - and this can also include a lack of religion or a lack of belief. The legislation doesn’t go as far though as requiring you to provide time off for prayer or religious observance and neither does it require you to agree to alter an employee’s working pattern to allow for prayer at specific times of the day. That said, a refusal without good reason to accommodate an employee’s request for an alteration to their working pattern or time off for religious observance could amount to indirect religious discrimination. So our Religious Observance Policy provides that, on request, you’ll endeavour to grant a change to an employee’s working pattern or reasonable time off during normal working hours for religious observance (subject to them making the time up). Indirect discrimination can be objectively justified, provided you can show that a refusal to grant the employee’s request for time off is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, if you can show that granting time off at a particular time or granting a change to a working pattern would create problems for the business, your refusal may be justified. Our policy goes on to provide that you’ll assess whether it’s practicable to grant time off, taking into account business need and any disruption that would be caused to the work of the employee’s department. The policy then reserves you the right to refuse to grant some or all of the time off requested.

Prayer room

There’s also no requirement in the Equality Act 2010 to provide employees with a dedicated room for religious observance. Obviously, if you have spare office space available and there’s a need for religious observance, then use it to create a prayer room, but you don’t need to go out of your way to provide such facilities if you don’t have the space available. Our policy has an optional paragraph covering the provision of a prayer room.

Direct discrimination

If you provide time off for religious observance, or a prayer room, to employees of one religion but you refuse to provide it to employees of a different one, that treatment will amount to direct discrimination - and it’s not possible to justify direct discrimination. So our policy makes clear that everyone will be treated equally as regards requests for time off for religious observance, regardless of their religion or belief, and that the prayer room is open to all.

Working hours changes

If you do agree to alter an employee’s working hours to accommodate religious observance, you still need to comply with the Working Time Regulations 1998 as regards minimum rest breaks.