At-a-glance guide to religious beliefs in the workplace

From 2 December 2003, when the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations come into force, it will be unlawful to discriminate against workers because of religion or similar belief. With the help of the arbitration service Acas, Personnel Today provides a guide to religious observance


Baha’is should say one of three obligatory prayers during the day. Prayers need to be recited in a quiet place where the Baha’i will wish to face the Qiblih (the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, near Akka, Israel), which is in a south-easterly direction from the UK.

Two of the prayers require movement and prostrations.  Baha’is are required to wash their hands and face before prayers but can use a normal washroom facility for this purpose.


Baha’i festivals take place from sunset to sunset and followers may wish to leave work early in order to be home for sunset on the day prior to the festival date. Baha’is will wish to refrain from working on the 9 key festival dates.

The Baha’i Fast 2 March – 20 March

Baha’is refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset during this period.

Baha’is working evening or night shifts will appreciate the opportunity to prepare food at sundown. There are exemptions from fasting for sickness, pregnancy, traveling and strenuous physical work.

– Naw-Ruz (Baha’i New Year) 21 March
– Ridvan 21 April-2 May

Ridvan is the most important of the Baha’i festivals and includes three holy days on which Baha’is would wish to refrain from working. They are:

– 1st Day of Ridvan 21 April
– 9th Day of Ridvan 29 April
– 12th Day of Ridvan 2 May
– Declaration of the Bab 23 May
– Ascension of the Baha’u’llah 29 May
– Martyrdom of the Bab 9 July
– Birth of the Bab 20 October
– Birth of Baha’u’llah 12 November


As a matter of principal most Baha’is do not take alcohol. Otherwise there are no dietary restrictions.


Burial should take place as soon as possible after legal formalities and funeral arrangements can be put in hand. The body should be transported no more than one hour’s journey from the place where the person died, so funerals take place relatively close to the place of death. The usual arrangements for compassionate leave should generally suffice. Baha’is have no specific period of mourning.



There are a number of different sects of Buddhism arising from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Different sects will celebrate different festivals.  Some Buddhist traditions do not celebrate any festivals. Buddhist members of staff should be asked which festivals are important to them.  Festivals follow the lunar calendar and will therefore not take place on the same day each year.

Saindran Memorial Day January
Parinirvana February
Magha Puja Day March
Honen Memorial Day March
Buddha Day (Vesak or Visakah Puja) May
The Ploughing Festival May
Buddhist New Year
Asalha Puja Day (Dhamma Day) July
Ulambana (Ancestor Day) July
Abhidhamma Day October
Kathina Day October
The Elephant Festival November
Loy Krathorg December
Bodhi Day December
Uposatha quarterly observance days
Avalokitesvara’s Birthday


Most Buddhists are vegetarian reflecting their adherence to the precept of non-harm to self and others. Many would not want to prepare or serve meat for others.


As above – most Buddhists would prefer to wear clothing which reflects their adherence to non-harm.


There are a wide variety of Christian churches and organisations.


– Christmas Day December 25th
– Easter Sunday March/April (date set by lunar calendar)
– A festival starting on Maundy Thursday and finishing on Easter Sunday

In addition there are a number of ‘holy days of obligation’ when Christians may wish to attend a church service and request a late start to the working day, or early finish in order that they can attend their local church. Many practicing Christians will wish to attend their Church on Sundays throughout the year.

– Ash Wednesday Feb/March (date set by lunar calendar) this is a day of fasting/abstinence for many Christians.
– Maundy Thursday 3 days before Easter
– Good Friday 2 days before Easter
– All Saints Day 1 November
– Christmas Eve 24 December


Some Christian churches avoid alcohol.


Some Christian churches forbid the use of cosmetics and require their female members to dress modestly.


No special requirements beyond normal compassionate leave.


Festival Days

Hinduism is a diverse religion and not all Hindus will celebrate the same festivals.

– Maha Shiva Ratri February
– Holi March
– Ramnavami April
– Rakshabandham August
– Janmashtami August
– Ganesh Chaturthi August/September
– Navaratri September/October
– Dushera (aka Vijayadashmi) September/October
– Karava Chauth October
– Diwali Late October/Early November
– New Year Late October/Early November


Hindu women will often wear a bindi which is a red spot worn on the forehead and denotes that she is of the Hindu faith. In addition, many married Hindu women wear a necklace (mangal sutra) which is placed around their necks during the marriage ceremony and is in addition to a wedding ring.

A few Orthodox Hindu men wear a small tuft of hair (shikha) similar to a ponytail but this is often hidden beneath the remaining hair. Some Orthodox Hindu men also wear a clay marking on their foreheads known as a tilak.


Most Hindus are vegetarian and will not eat meat, fish or eggs.


Following cremation, close relatives of the deceased will observe a 13 day mourning period during which they will wish to remain at home. The closest male relatives may take the ashes of the deceased to the Ganges, in India. They may therefore request extended leave. Close male relatives of the deceased may shave their heads as a mark of respect.

Islam (Muslims)

Observant Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Each prayer time takes about 10 minutes and can take place anywhere clean and quiet. Prayer times are:-

– At dawn (Fajr)
– At midday (Zuhr) in Winter sometime between 12.00-13.00 and in summer between 13.00-16.00.
– Late Afternoon (Asr) in Winter 14.30-15.30
– After Sunset (Maghrib)
– Late Evening (Isha)

Friday midday prayers are particularly important to Muslims and may take a little longer than other prayer times. Friday prayers must be said in congregation and may require Muslims to travel to the nearest mosque or prayer gathering.

Before prayers, observant Muslims undertake a ritual act of purification. This involves the use of running water to wash hands, face, mouth, nose, arms up to the elbows and feet up to the ankles, although often the washing of the feet will be performed symbolically.


The dates of festivals are reliant on a sighting of the new moon and will therefore vary from year to year. While approximate dates will be know well in advance, it is not always possible to give a definitive date until much nearer the time.

Ramadan, which takes place in the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, is a particularly significant time for Muslims. Fasting is required between dawn and sunset. Most Muslims will attend work in the normal way but in the winter they may wish to break fast with other Muslims at sunset. This could be seen as a delayed lunch break. For those working evening or night shifts, the opportunity to heat food at sunset and/or sunrise will be appreciated.

– Eid Al-Fitr – three days to mark the end of Ramadan – most Muslims will only seek annual leave for the first of the three days.
– Eid al-Adha takes place two months and 10 days after Eid Al-Fitr and is a three-day festival. Again, most Muslims will usually only seek leave for the first of the three days.

All Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime. Muslims may therefore seek one extended leave period in which to make such a pilgrimage.


Muslims are required to cover the body. Men may therefore be unwilling to wear shorts. Women may wish to cover their whole body, except their face, hands and feet.


Muslims are forbidden to eat any food which is derived from the pig, this includes lard which may be present in bread or even ice cream. In addition they are forbidden to eat any food which is derived from a carnivorous animal. Meat that may be consumed must be slaughtered by the Halal method. Islam also forbids the consumption of alcohol which includes its presence in dishes such as risotto or fruit salad.


Burial must take place as soon as possible following death and may therefore occur at short notice.


1. Any form of gambling is forbidden under Islam.
2. Observant Muslims are required to wash their genitals following use of the toilet and will therefore appreciate access to water in the toilet cubicle, often Muslims will carry a small container of water into the cubicle for this purpose. By agreement with other staff and cleaners, these containers could be kept in the cubicle.
3. Physical contact between the sexes is discouraged and some Muslims may politely refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex. This should not be viewed negatively.


Jains are required to worship three times daily, before dawn, at sunset and at night.

Jains working evening or night shifts may wish to take time out to worship or take their meals before sunset.


Jain festivals are spiritual in nature.

– Oli April and October

Eight days semi-fasting twice a year when some take one bland, tasteless meal during day time.

– Mahavira Jayanti April – birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira
– Paryusan August/September

During this sacred period of fasting and forgiveness for eight days Jains fast, observe spiritual rituals, meditate and live a pious life taking only boiled water during daytime.

– Samvatsari September, The last day of Paryushan when Jains ask for forgiveness and forgive on another.
– Diwali October/November
– Death anniversary of Lord Mahavira, includes a two-day fast and listening to the last message of Mahavira.


Jains practice avoidance of harm to all life – self and others. They are, therefore, strict vegetarians including the avoidance of eggs; some may take milk products. Many also avoid root vegetables. Jains do not eat between sunset and sunrise. Jains do not drink alcohol.


Cremation will take place as soon as practical after death (usually three to five days). There is no specified mourning period and normal compassionate leave arrangements will suffice.

Judaism (Jews)

Observant Jews are required to refrain from work on the Sabbath and Festivals, except where life is at risk. This includes travelling (except on foot), writing, carrying, switching on and off electricity, using a telephone and transactions of a commercial nature (that is buying and selling) The Sabbath and all other Festivals begin one hour before dusk and so practising Jews need to be home by then. Sabbath begins one hour before dusk on Friday.

Festival Days

– Passover March/April two sets of two days
– Pentecost (Shavuoth) May/June two days
– New Year Sept/Oct two days
– Day of Atonement Sept/Oct – one day fasting
– Tabernacles (Sukkot) Sept/Oct two sets of two days


Orthodox Jewish men keep their head covered at all times. Orthodox Jewish women will wish to dress modestly and may not want to wear trousers, short skirts or short sleeves; some may wish to keep their heads covered by a scarf or beret.


Jews are required to eat only kosher food (which has been treated and prepared in a particular manner).


Funerals must take place as soon as possible following the death – the same day where possible – and therefore take place at short notice. Following a death, the immediate family must stay at home and mourn for 7 days (Shiva).

Following the death of a Father or Mother, an observant Jewish man will be required to go to a Synagogue to pray morning, afternoon and evening for 11 months of the Jewish calendar.

Muslim (see Islam)

Parsi (see Zoroastrianism)


Most Rastafarians are male, the faith giving women a subordinate role.


– Birthday of Haile Selassie 1 July 23rd
– Ethiopian New Year Sept 11th
– Anniversary of the Crowning of Haile Selassie 1 Nov 2nd
– Christmas Dec 25th


Vegetarian including the avoidance of eggs. Many Rastafarians eat only organic food as close to its raw state as possible.


Hair is worn uncut and plaited into ‘dreadlocks’. It is often covered by a hat which is usually red, green and gold.


Whilst the faith supports the smoking of ganga (marijuana) this practice remains unlawful in the UK. and is unaffected by the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.


No specific requirements beyond that of normal compassionate leave.


Festival Days

– Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh January
– Vaisakhi April
– Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev June
– Sri Guru Granth Sahib Day October
– Diwali October/November
– Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur November
– Birthday of Guru Nanak November

Festival days are currently set by the lunar calendar. However, in the near future this will be changed to regularised annual dates.


Sikhs do not eat Halal meat. Some do not eat beef and many are vegetarian.


Practicing male Sikhs will wish to observe the 5 Ks of the faith. That is:

– Kesh Beard, uncut hair and turban
– Kangha Small comb worn in the hair beneath the turban
– Kara Metal bracelet worn on the right wrist
– Kachhahera Knee length underpants
– Kirpan Small ceremonial sword worn under the shirt and which should remain hidden.


Cremation takes place as soon after the death as practical. There is no specified mourning period although an additional ceremony takes place on the 10th day after cremation.

Zoroastrians (Parsi)

Zoroastrians are required to pray five times during the day, saying a special prayer for each part of the day.

– Hawab (sunrise to midday)
– Rapithwin (midday to mid-afternoon)
– Uzerin (mid-afternoon to sunset)
– Aiwisruthrem (sunset to midnight)
– Ushahin (midnight to dawn)

Prayers should be said in front of a fire – or a symbolic replica of fire.

In addition, a ritual is performed each time a Zoroastrain washes his/her hands although the ritual is not always strictly performed in all its detail. When it is performed, the individual will stand on the same spot and must speak to no one during the ritual. No special facilities are required. A prayer will also be said before eating.


Dates follow the lunar calendar and will therefore vary from year to year.

– Khordad Sal – The Prophet’s Birthday
– Fravardigan – Remembrance of departed souls.
– Tiragan – Water Festival
– Mehergan – Harvest Festival
– Ave roj nu Parab – Water Festival
– Adar roj nu Parab – Fire Festival
– Jashn-e-Sadeh – Mid Winter Festival
– Zardosht no Disco – Death of the Prophet
– Maktad – Festival of All Souls
– NoRuz – New Year

In addition there are six seasonal festivals

– Maidyoizaremaya mid spring
– Maidyoishema mid summer
– Paitishahya early autumn
– Ayathrima mid autumn
– Maidhyairya mid winter
– Hamaspathmaedaya pre-spring


Zoroastrians, both male and female, wear two pieces of sacred clothing.

The Sudreh (shirt) and the Kusti (cord) which is a string which passes loosely around the waist three times and is tied in a double knot at the back. It is the Kusti which is ritualistically retied each time the hands are washed.


Following the death of a close family member there is a mourning period of 10 days followed by a ceremony to mark the first month, the six month and the 12th month of bereavement.

This listing has been taken from Acas guidance entitled Putting the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 into practice For Employers and Their Staff, which is available at:

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