Religion is one of the protected characteristics often interpreted differently by employers and employees in regard to how much religion should be respected and protected in the workplace.
TIME OFF/BREAKS FOR PRAYERS
An interesting question we received this month was surrounding break time for prayers. The Equality Act 2010 does not require employers to provide time off for prayer or religious observance, or to alter an employee’s working pattern to allow for prayer at specific times of the day.
Nonetheless, a refusal without good reason to accommodate an employee’s request for time off, or for an alteration to his or her working patterns for religious purposes, could amount to indirect religious discrimination. Indirect discrimination can be justified where the employer can show that a refusal to grant the employee’s request for time off is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
In Qureshi v Teknequip, a Muslim employee was refused an extended lunch break one day a week to attend prayer at his Mosque. It was held that he was not indirectly discriminated against. The employer succeeded for a number of reasons, including that it had allowed the employee an extra half-hour for lunch on Fridays, and the employee was permitted to say prayers during break time without restriction.
On the other hand, in Cherfi v G4S Security Services Ltd the Employment Appeals Tribunal held that refusing an employee permission to leave work for Friday prayers at a Mosque was a proportionate means of his employer achieving a legitimate aim—meeting the operational needs of the business. Given the limited discriminatory effect on Cherfi due to the alternative options open to him, the conclusion of justification was one which the tribunal was entitled to reach.
RELIGIOUS RISK ASSESSMENT?
In the light of the above, it is interesting to consider whether moving forward an employer should carry out a full religious risk assessment to “assess” how comfortable the employee in question feels working among other colleagues with other beliefs or dress code, or working with different genders to review if there are any reasonable adjustments that could be made or not. Having said that, given that there are a number of different religions some more and some less well known it could be argued that potentially such an assessment will make issues more complicated and might raise questions as to what could be accommodated for each religion and is there more tolerance for one particular faith over another. Also, maybe moderating the exercise of religion in the workplace would ensure ideological neutrality?