Religious Holidays – Can Employers Reject Leave Requests?

According to the ONS, there are over three million Muslims, over one million Hindus and about 520K Sikhs, in the UK; and these are in addition to the Christians, Buddhists and any other religion people practice.

With a wide range of religions, come people who have their religious holidays to celebrate. However, the UK does not recognise Muslim holidays like Eid or Hindu holidays like Diwali as a bank holiday. So, what can an employee do to take time off for religious holidays?

The quickest answer is “request for leave well in advance”; but it may not seem as easy as it sounds. With these holidays not being considered bank holidays and, in some cases, employees not knowing the exact date of the holiday, it can be difficult for employers to give time off. In such cases, can an employer deny leave requests for religious holidays?

What Does the Law Say?

Employees do not have a legal right to take time off work for religious purposes. In general, employers are not required to automatically grant time off for religious holidays or festivals, prayer time, or provide a designated place for prayer. However, if an employer refuses a request without a valid business reason or handles the request unfairly, they could potentially face a discrimination claim.

However, should an employee have to take leave for a non-recognised religious holiday they can request leave. According to the Working Time Regulations 1998, workers need to let their employer know in advance if they want to take a statutory holiday. The amount of notice they need to give is twice as long as the number of days they want to take off.

Additionally, employers may include their clauses regarding holiday notices which will need to be followed. These may be in an employee’s training contract or be informed to them separately. Although it is imperative to understand that an employer needs to be cautious about not putting their employees at a disadvantage when one of their colleagues is absent.

This means that if your time off will harm the business or the people you work with, it would be irresponsible for your employer to approve it. That’s why it’s important to ask for time off well ahead of the religious event. This shows that you care about your employer’s needs and gives them enough time to find a suitable replacement.

So, if the business allows and an employee’s leave is not clashing with any important dates or during a busy period, there is no reason a religious holiday leave request will be denied.

My Employer Rejected My Leave Request – What Can I Do?

The first and easiest thing to do is speak to your employer about it. Every employee should be able to have an open conversation about their need for religious time off. Additionally, employees can speak to their colleagues to see if their workload can be distributed to avoid any disruption to the business while they are away.

Figuring out a way to celebrate religious holidays is particularly hard for Muslim employees as they don’t know the exact date for certain festivals too much in advance. So, a two or three week notice for leave policy may keep Muslim employees at a disadvantage (and could be valid grounds for indirect discrimination).

However, should it come down to the point where there is no way an employee can take time off for a festival, employers need to make other arrangements. As an employee, you can have a conversation about arrangements that can include flexible working hours, makeshift prayer rooms or a break from work to attend prayers. Employees can even get the whole workplace involved and have even a mini celebration in the office!

Religious holidays, irrespective of religion, are a great time to learn about other cultures. So, whether employees get time off or not, it would be great to introduce and educate coworkers about the festival and how people celebrate it.

If you feel like you are being discriminated against based on your religious beliefs, get in touch with our team of employment law specialists today!