Am I obliged to let my employee leave their work-station to pray?
There is no statutory requirement for employers to provide prayer breaks for employees wishing to take them. Accommodating prayer breaks is generally at the discretion of the employer. Employers may well accommodate prayer breaks, what more this will be considered as good practice and will help to build virtuous relationships within the workplace but where an employer refuses this request, they may have to justify his refusal i.e. he could not accommodate the employee’s request due to business needs and job requirements. That being said where cigarette or toilet breaks are allowed, which is common practice, it may be difficult for an employer to provide reasons for the refusal of a prayer break.
If the employer does accommodate prayer breaks, they can amend the contract of employment if need be, however, it depends on the arrangements being made. For example an employee may agree to a shorter lunch break in order to use that forsaken time for prayer breaks. This may be amended in their contract of employment. However, for some religious groups, prayer times are constantly changing and this may be problematic for employers having to constantly update contracts. Alternatively it would be more convenient for the employer and employee to reach a general agreement. Accommodation of religious worship does not imply extensive arrangements therefore a prayer room is not necessary but if there is a suitable room with appropriate hygiene facilities, it may be in the employer’s interest to permit access.
Just because a contract of employment doesn’t stipulate any provisions for prayer breaks it doesn’t mean they cannot be made afterwards. Upon any change to a contract of employment, the new version must be given in writing to the employee within one month of the change and the employee must agree to the new terms in order for the contract to continue. Remember the contract of employment is only part of the governance of an employment relationship; it is not the only place for terms and conditions of employment to be set.
To reiterate, there is no legal requirement to allow religious worship in the workplace. But since religion and belief is one of the protected characteristics contained in the Equality Act 2010, if an employer rejects a request in relation to religion or belief which results in less favourable treatment to that employee and the employer cannot justify his refusal, then the employee may have grounds to bring a discrimination claim. Accommodating your employees’ needs creates trust and confidence creating an active workforce which then creates success for your business.
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