Religion or belief: time off work

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Employers

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • Great Britain

      Great Britain

Answers to the main religion or belief questions about time off work, developed with employers. Part of our religion or belief frequently asked questions.

No, you don’t have to automatically agree but you must give proper consideration to the request and make sure you are not unlawfully discriminating against the employee. See our decision-making tool to help you handle employee requests.

If an employee can use his/her statutory or contractual paid annual leave for the holiday or pilgrimage, it may be difficult to show that a refusal is proportionate unless there is some good reason why holiday cannot be taken at that particular time (for example, the demands on the business or workforce are high).

The size and nature of your organisation will be relevant. A larger employer may have more scope for covering the absence from its existing staff or from a pool of temporary staff, though in some sectors it still may not be easy to provide cover for employees with specific skills.

If you refuse a request you must make sure you are not indirectly or directly discriminating against your employee or others sharing the same religion or belief. See our guide to the law to find out more about direct and indirect discrimination.

No, you don’t have to automatically agree but you must give proper consideration to the request and make sure you are not unlawfully discriminating against the employee. See our decision-making tool to help you handle employee requests.

In many work environments it may be possible to grant a request for breaks for prayer during work time. However, there may be some circumstances where this is more difficult - for example, where there is a legal requirement to maintain staff-to-child ratios in a school or nursery, or to ensure continuous operation on a production line.

If you refuse a request you must make sure you are not indirectly or directly discriminating against your employee or others sharing the same religion or belief. See our guide to the law to find out more about direct and indirect discrimination.

No, you don’t have to automatically agree but you must give proper consideration to the request and make sure you are not unlawfully discriminating against the employee. See our decision-making tool to help you handle employee requests.

If your business operates seven days a week then having enough staff to meet the demands of the business on Sunday is likely to be a genuine organisational need. Other employees may also want Sundays off to spend time with their family. There are specific regulations in place for opting out of Sunday working, especially for shop and betting shop workers. For more details see government guidance on Sunday working.

If you refuse a request you must make sure you are not indirectly or directly discriminating against your employee or others sharing the same religion or belief. See our guide to the law to find out more about direct and indirect discrimination.

An employee with a religion or belief should not automatically be given priority to take leave. If they are given automatic priority over an employee with no religion or belief, this could be direct discrimination against the employee with no religion or belief. The Equality Act 2010 protects both individuals with a religion or belief and those without a religion or belief.

You must consider both requests properly and not, for example, dismiss a request out of hand because it is not for a religious reason. However, this does not necessarily mean that you have to grant both requests. It is not unlawful direct discrimination to treat people differently if their situations are different. See our decision-making tool to help you handle employee requests.

Yes. For many, Christmas is a secular occasion as well as a religious festival, celebrated by people of many religions and none.

If you are providing food and drink, it is good practice to make available a range of options, including vegetarian food and non-alcoholic drinks. You might also want to consider holding events at other points in the year to celebrate other occasions such as a summer party, as well as other religious festivals that may be observed by your employees.

Last updated: 27 Mar 2017

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

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