How do religious festivals impact on your business?

With a wide range of different beliefs in the UK, your business needs to have an understanding of the many religious festivals, holy days and observances that may occasionally affect your workforce.

It’s not just the Christmas break that can impact your bottom line – are you prepared for the rest of the year’s festivities and observances?

Which religious festivals affect employees?

Some practices and observances during festivals and holy days may apply to employees whilst they work, including fasting, prayer and abstinence that your business will need to consider. However, it is important to recognise that the nature, duration and requirements vary both on the religious festival and the personal beliefs of the individual worker or employee.

There are many religious festivals, including:

  • Diwali (Hindu)
  • Guru Nanak (Sikh)
  • Lent (Christian)
  • Pesach/Passover (Jewish)
  • Ramadan (Islam)
  • Vesak (Buddhist)

These religious festivals, holy days and observances could mean additional prayers, fasting and abstinence that may impact on your business. However, with planning and management, any adverse affects can be minimised and the actions taken by your company can increase morale and understanding amongst employees.

How can religious festivals impact on the workplace?

Fasting and abstinence, fasting in particular meaning limited or no food and/or drink for a specific day or period, such as the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri and the Islamic festival of Ramadan, may affect performance of employees. As an employer, encouraging flexible working and minimising physically/mentally demanding tasks can help increase productivity and reduce risk.

Some religious festivals may require additional prayers during the day, or for employees to take time off to participate, which may lead to staffing issues or the need for increased breaks during the working day.

There may also be a need to educate staff from different faiths and backgrounds that may not be aware of these festivals. Encouraging greater awareness and understanding of different religious backgrounds is very positive for the workplace. Raising awareness through providing details of religious holy days and festivals in company intranets or newsletter is a good way of improving morale and consideration and reducing any complaints that may arise.

What are your legal obligations as an employer?

As an employer, you are not legally obliged to grant requests for leave on religious grounds. However, as stated by Acas “many festivals/holy days require little or no special workplace action and some flexibility can improve staff morale”.

It is good practice to set out, within HR Policy and employee handbooks, steps that employees may wish to take in the case of religious festivals. For example, discussing and planning requests in good time are likely to minimise the impact (if any) of such requests. You need to balance the requirements of your business and the morale of your employees.

Simple and well-planned arrangements can help manage everyone’s expectations before issues arise. Are your employees asking for a full day off, or a few hours? Would flexible working resolve issues around fasting? Is there a need for a private space for prayer or meditation, in which you could provide a space during the festival or holy day?

Acas says it is generally unadvisable to offer paid special leave for such time off requests. You need to ensure that you do not discriminate in favour of a particular religion. Requests may be dealt with by using annual leave entitlement, flexi-time arrangements, one-off/discretionary flexi time off to be made up at a later time or unpaid leave.

If you are having issues dealing with the impact of religious festivals in your workplace, or need some guidance on how to manage employees with different religions and backgrounds, contact me today.


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