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Many Muslim workers across the country are currently observing Ramadan; a period of religious observance where Muslims observe a daily fast. Ramadan is scheduled to last until the next month begins, marked by the three-day celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking.
Eid is a celebration to mark the end of fasting and is also a period of giving thanks, reflection, and recognising those who are less fortunate. The months of the Islamic calendar are based on the sightings of the moon meaning the exact date of Eid is not yet confirmed although and won’t be until the new moon is visible, with projections estimating this to be the 24th June. Eid is an important celebration for Muslims and it is likely employers will receive annual leave requests for those who wish to observe this festival.
Employers should deal with holiday requests through their normal procedures and any company policies. It is important to act reasonably and fairly, following the normal system to determine whether the request can be approved.
It may be the case that the holiday request cannot be accommodated because of the needs of the business. It may be necessary to refuse leave where, for example, the workplace will be understaffed or the request is during a period of high customer demand. The Working Time Regulations allow employers to refuse holiday requests by giving employees the required notice. The required notice is equal to the amount of leave requested so if an employee requests a week off the employer has to give a minimum of one weeks’ notice to refuse the request.
Due to the unconfirmed date of the festival, employers may find themselves receiving holiday requests on short notice. The law states that employees have to give a notice period of double the length of their holiday to their employer to request holiday i.e. six days’ notice for three days’ leave. Employers can also extend this notice period through their contractual holiday policy. Where the employee fails to give the required notice, the employer is not under an obligation to consider the request.
Employers should give full consideration to holiday requests that are for the purpose of observing Eid. If, after consideration, the request has to be refused because of genuine business grounds, employers should discuss this with the employee concerned and see if any alternatives can be accommodated. Applying a fair and consistent holiday request policy across the workforce will not constitute direct discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, however, it can be classed as indirect discrimination because the policy applies to all but puts those of the Muslim faith at a particular disadvantage. This makes it crucial that employers have a genuine, objective business reason for refusing in order to objectively justify any indirect discrimination complaints.