Tel: 0345 644 8955 (TPS Registered)

Workplace Discrimination: Is Religion a Cross For The Rest of us to Bear?

Some great and good things have happened in the name of religion, but sometimes over-enthusiastic religious devotees are at best a nuisance and at worst dangerous.

Recently I was invited to dinner with some friends who are practising Christians. I’m not, but live and let live and all that. Entre nous, I did feel a bit irritated that between the main course and dessert they went in for some evangelising. My hostess (who is otherwise a delightful lady) referred to a remark I had made some time ago to open the conversation. I had said I had concerns about the psychotic nature of a request from a god who asked a man to put his son to death to prove his love of god (Abraham and Isaac). It’s every bit as bad as the mythological Greek gods who played all sorts of nasty tricks on humans. She tried to tackle my objection, failed and then fell back on the usual explanation that we shouldn’t take the stories of the Old Testament too seriously. Hmm. Not sure you’re supposed to adopt a cherry-picking attitude, but let that pass.

Believers from all religions are convinced that they are right and say they know they’re right. Well, they think they know, which is somewhat different, but they can’t absolutely know and have no proof. We did have the usual conversation about God speaking to them, usually though the putting of “unusual thoughts” in the mind. My view is in these days of pens, paper, phones, email, texts, skype, video links etc why on earth can’t deities be a bit clearer in their communication? (And I wish the said deity had taken the time to put the thought into my hostess’ mind that vegetarians don’t eat beef casserole, a point she had rather overlooked).

When religious issues come into the workplace, employers have to tackle them. It can be challenging. Quite recently, I had to deal with a devoutly religious employee, another Christian as it happens, who had departed from all the known religious standards of good behaviour and was giving her employer some real trouble. She showed no charity or reasonableness and was simply Hell-bent (yes I did use that word deliberately!) on trying to get her own way. Indeed she demonstrated that she was a thoroughly unpleasant little munchkin and the employer, who had treated the employee with great kindness and given her every opportunity through the period of employment, was horrified by the woman’s selfishness and stupidity. It took some time to sort out, but it has been resolved now.

For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is almost over. After a month of fasting, prayers and reflection, the holiday of Eid al-Fitr will start on the evening of Wednesday 7th August. This holiday celebrates the arrival of the new moon the day after Ramadan ends. Eid celebrations begin with the recitation of the prayer Salat al-Eid and visits with family and close friends. Homes are decorated festively with lights and banners and gifts of clothes or money are exchanged.

Tips for dealing with requests for time off for religious observance or holidays:

  • There is no right in law to time off to celebrate or take part in religious ceremonies, but try to accommodate employees' religion where possible, and treat all employees fairly and reasonably.
  • Where a large number of staff request holiday leaves around the same time for religious purposes, it may be impossible to grant all of the requests. Where you anticipate this happening, discuss the matter with the employees and/or their representatives in advance with the aim of reaching agreement on how this can best be managed. Try to establish a fair system for granting leave that meets the needs of the business and does not put employees of any particular religion or belief (or those who do not hold any religious beliefs) at a disadvantage.
  • Bear in mind that some religious or belief festivals are aligned with the lunar cycle (like Ramadan),with the result that the dates change from year to year.
  • It is good practice to consult with staff and/or their representatives before agreeing (or refusing) to provide any particular facilities for religious observance./

Who do you know who needs help sorting out staff problems? Put us in touch with each other.

Call 0845 644 8955 or email us and we’ll make their day!

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

Subscribe to our free monthly HR newsletter. Russell HR Consulting employment law newsletters are emailed automatically to our ever-growing number of subscribers every month.

Got any HR queries?

Contact us