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Religious Leave Requests

Employment Law

Within the UK, people from different ethnicities, religions, and cultural backgrounds celebrate various faith-based holidays throughout the year. With Diwali soon approaching, some employees may request religious leave from work to participate in the celebrations.

The majority of employers acknowledge the importance of religious observances and they try their best to accommodate the needs of their employees.

Our employment law expert Tim Thompson answers the common questions that employers may have regarding religious leave requests.

As an employer, am I legally required to accept religious leave requests?

Employees may request time off during religious holidays to participate in activities such as private prayers, charitable projects and celebrations with their families and communities.

It is not a legal requirement to allow employees to take time off for faith-based holidays, however, as an employer, you may find that accommodating such requests can increase the overall morale of employees.

If an employer is unable to grant religious leave requests due to their business needs, the employer could explore other ways accommodating of their employees requests during these festivities. For example, providing additional flexibility around working hours.

Do I have to provide greater flexibility to employees during religious holidays?

Some employees may choose to remain at work during holy days and festivals. Alternatively, they may ask for increased flexibility in order to fulfil religious requirements. Employees may request working flexible hours to participate in private prayers and celebrations or other religious practices.

Employers must deal with flexible working requests in a reasonable manner and such requests can only be declined due to valid business reasons such as:

  • It will cost your business too much
  • Work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • Negative effect on performance
  • Insufficient work for the employee during requested working hours

Employers and employees should discuss the arrangements that need to be made for religious observances in advance to manage the expectations of both parties.

Do I have to pay an employee requesting religious leave?

Employers are generally advised to avoid offering paid leave for religious leave requests to ensure they don’t discriminate in favour of a particular religion. However, employees that are choosing to use their annual leave allowance to take leave for a religious event should be paid as per the usual holiday terms.

Additionally, employers can accommodate religious leave requests by allowing employees to take unpaid leave if they have no annual leave remaining.

Should an employee requesting religious leave be given priority over other employee holiday requests?

Employees that have a religion or belief should not automatically be given priority to take leave.

If an employer automatically prioritises a religious leave request over a non-religious holiday request this may be considered as direct discrimination against the employee with no religion or belief.

For further advice regarding religious leave requests or any other aspect of employment law please contact Tim Thompson on 01733 295 606 or email tim.thompson@hegarty.co.uk.

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