Religion and religious festivals: a guide for employers and HR

Top 5 tips for preparing for Ramadan

1. Try to avoid ‘working lunches’ as Muslims cannot participate
2. Consider enabling Muslims to work their lunch breaks in return for an earlier finish

3. Don’t expect participating Muslims to attend evening functions during Ramadan

4. Remind colleagues not to place food and drink next to a fasting person’s desk
Religion: a guide for employers and HR5. Be prepared for people to take between one and three days holiday at the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid.

 Source: Kwintessential

Ramadan begins this Saturday, and employers find themselves under increasing pressure to accommodate employees wishing to observe it.

Personnel Today and its paid-for sister product Xpert HR offer a wealth of relevant information and guidance, including legal requirements, best practice and useful suggestions.

While the UK remains nominally Christian, with the associated holidays, a growing number of people here belong to other faiths.

According to the most recent 2001 census, there are now 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, and roughly one-tenth of the population belongs to a religion other than Christianity.

So what should employers – and in particular, their HR teams – do to acknowledge and facilitate employees’ religious beliefs? It’s more than just a case of holidays – there are dietary requirements, clothing matters and even provision of prayer facilities to take into account.


Religion: Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

The issues around religion are incredibly diverse, as XpertHR‘s FAQ section on the subject shows. For instance:

Q Can an employer restrict a job to a person of a particular religion or belief?

A A job can be restricted to candidates of a particular religion or belief only where, having regard to the nature of the employment or the context in which it is carried out, being of that religion or belief is a genuine and determining occupational requirement for the job, and it is proportionate to apply that requirement in the particular case.

If the employer is an organisation with an ethos based on religion or belief, it will be enough that being of the particular religion or belief is a genuine occupational requirement (that is, it does not have to be a determining requirement) and it is proportionate to apply that requirement in the particular case.

Q Can employers require all employees to wear a uniform?

A Employers can require all employees to wear a uniform, but some flexibility is needed to avoid unlawful discrimination. Whether it is necessary for all employees to wear a uniform should be considered. It may be necessary only for those employees who are in contact with customers, clients or members of the public, or for those who represent the employer externally, or promote its image or branding. Alternatively, there may be health and safety reasons for wearing a uniform.

Employers should adopt a dress code that outlines the standards of dress required, and states any requirement to wear a uniform. The needs of certain groups of employees must be considered.

For example, some women are required by their religion to cover their legs or heads. And a pregnant employee may be unable to wear the uniform in the later stages of her pregnancy. The uniform should be modified or waived in these circumstances.



The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 require employers, where reasonably practicable, to accommodate the requirements of the different religions or beliefs of their employees when drawing up a dress or appearance code.

This is an area of particular sensitivity. Practising Sikh men, for example, are required to observe the ‘five Ks’: Kesh (uncut hair); Kangha (wooden comb); Kara (steel bangle); Kirpan (symbolic dagger worn under the clothing); and Kaccha (knee-length undershorts). Many of them, and some Sikh women, also wear turbans. 


Dietary requirements

Special dietary requirements are one of the biggest challenges for organisations with staff from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. For example, beef is strictly forbidden to Hindus as the cow is regarded as sacred, while many Rastafarians will only eat organic food, in as close to its natural state as possible.

More detail on appearance and dietary requirements can be found in XpertHR’s Quick Reference section.


Religious holiday policy

Staff may request leave for religious reasons, such as holy days. When to allow this will depend primarily on the needs of your business, but your reasons for granting, or not granting it, must be clearly communicated.

As the notes in XpertHR’s model religious holidays policy point out, the majority of Christian religious holidays are provided for in the form of bank or public holidays in the UK. However, there is no equivalent provision in the UK for non-Christian religious holidays. Employers should therefore be supportive towards employees who observe religions other than Christianity, as time off work on particular dates may be very important for them.

Where a large number of staff request holiday leave around the same time for religious purposes, it may be impractical for the employer to grant all of the requests. Where such an occurrence can be anticipated, the employer would be advised to 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.

The objective should be 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.

Employers may also wish to bear in mind that some religious or belief festivals are aligned with the lunar cycle, with the result that the dates change from year to year.


Religious observance policy

Followers of some religions will wish to pray during working hours. How or even whether this is accommodated is up to the individual employer, but XpertHR has put together a model religious observance policy, outlining how companies can support employees.

It notes that employers should be supportive towards employees whose religious beliefs require them to observe certain practices. For example, they may be required by their religion to pray at set times of the day.

Although not a legal requirement, it is good practice for employers to set aside a quiet room or area for prayer or private contemplation.

It is always good practice to consult with staff and/or their representatives before agreeing (or refusing) to provide any particular facilities for religious observance.

XpertHR’s religious observance policy also warns that if an employer provides time off and/or facilities for religious observance to employees of one religion, but refuses to provide equivalent benefits to staff of another, this will amount to direct religious discrimination. Such discrimination is not open to justification.


Calendar of religious holy days


Religion/ethnic group

Date (2009) 

Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh Ji Sikh 5 January
Ashura Islam 7 January
Lunar New Year Chinese 26 January
Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday Islam 9 March
Purim Jewish 10 March
Holi (Spring festival) Hindu 11 March
Pesach (Passover) (first day) Jewish 9 April
Vaisakhi Sikh 14 April
Shavuot (Pentecost) Jewish 29 May
Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji Sikh 16 June
Tisha B’Av Jewish 30 July 
Start of Ramadan Islam 22 August
Navratri (first day) Hindu 19 September
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) Jewish 19 September
Eid Ul-Fitr (End of Ramadan) Islam 21 September
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) Jewish 28 September
Succot (Tabernacles) (1st day) Jewish 3 October
Diwali Hindu 17 October
Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji Sikh 2 November
Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji Sikh 24 November
Eid-Ul-Adha Islam 28 November
Hanukkah (1st day)  Jewish 12 December
Ashura  Islam 27 December

You can find XperthR’s 2010 and 2011 religious calendars here, under Religious Festivals.

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