Acas recently published new guidance on religion and belief to help employers prevent discrimination on these grounds in the workplace. To assist employers further, we’ve produced another series of “myth busters” to help separate fact from fiction in this area, all of which will be published on our website over the coming weeks. Of course, if you’re an employer and would like to discuss any of the issues touched on in these posts, please contact one of our HR consultants in confidence and without delay for some initial advice free of charge and without obligation.

Myth: A request for leave for a religious festival takes precedence over a request for a family holiday.

Fact:  It is not compulsory for an employer to allow time off for a staff member for religious holidays or festivals. However, like all annual leave requests, it should be given due consideration and the employer should attempt to be as accommodating as possible.

When making a decision on annual leave requests, an employer must not afford priority to an employee from one religious group over another colleague of a different (or no) religion or belief. Religious observance does not necessarily override any other good reason for granting leave. When considering whether to grant the holiday request, the employer should take into account its effect on others. A typical example may be the possible impact of prioritising leave requests for religious reasons on a group with another protected characteristic, such as female employees with young children when the period also happens to be a school holiday. This could amount to indirect sex discrimination.

A good rule of thumb is to approve employee holiday requests, regardless of whether for religious reasons, wherever the business can function satisfactorily whilst they are on leave. Where a request is declined, there should be sufficient business rationale to justify the rejection in order to mitigate the risk of a discrimination claim.

Garry Humphreys, HR Consultant at EML, comments:


“There will almost certainly be times when a number of employees request the same time off. In such circumstances, the employer should make it clear to all staff that only an agreed number of people can be on leave at any one time and that those requesting time off for religious reasons do not take priority.”