Our clients often ask us if they need to provide a prayer room for their staff, what are their obligations and what can they say or not say?
There are a number of factors which will determine your approach to the provision of prayer rooms. These may include:
- your equality, diversity & inclusion policies
- company culture
- the physical environment in which you work and,
- the law
In order to make appropriate decisions about the provision of prayer facilities, you need to fully understand the context:
- Do you have an appropriate room within the building?
- Are there other staff who have an arrangement in place regarding religious practices?
- Does your business or the employee’s role have the flexibility to make the adjustments?
- Is the employee requesting to pray in the office and/or at a place of worship?
- How often do they need to pray and for how long?
Some religions require followers to pray at specific times during the day, employers should consider whether it is practical and reasonable for an employee making a request:
- to take their break to coincide with prayer times, and/or
- to take a shorter lunch break and use the remaining time for prayer during other parts of the day, and/or
- to have some flexibility in their working day, such as their start and finish times, so they can pray before, during and/or after work, and still work their full hours.
While an employer is not obliged to provide a prayer room, it should agree to the request if a quiet place is available and its use for prayer would not disrupt the business or other staff.
Where an employee’s religion requires observance of particular prayer times during the working day, this should be respected wherever possible, otherwise there is a risk that the employee may claim that they have been discriminated against on the grounds of religion or belief.
The employer should consult with staff, including, if relevant, employee representatives or recognised trade unions.
An employer is not expected to spend a significant sum or alter buildings but should consider providing separate storage facilities for ceremonial objects. It should also talk to staff to see whether there is anything reasonable and practical which can be done to help them fulfil the rituals of their religions.
If the employer does not have a place for a dedicated prayer or multi-faith room, it should discuss with staff how else it might be able to help, for example, would they accept using a place as a temporary prayer room at certain times of the day? For example, use of a first aid room or communal area for staff might be possible.
An employer should be aware that refusing a request for a place to pray, when it provides other comparable facilities for staff, is likely to be discriminatory.
What is ‘proportionate’?
In determining the response to a request for a place to pray, proportionality can be particularly important. For example, it may be easier for a small firm with limited space to justify turning down such a request, than a large organisation with lots of office space.
The risks of saying “no” to a request for prayer facilities
Willingness to accommodate the religious needs of employees is likely to be in the employer’s interests, as it will help maintain the loyalty and goodwill of the workforce and reduce the risk of a claim.
Legislation protects employees from all kinds of discrimination (direct, indirect, harassment and victimisation) due to a specific religion or belief they hold, as this is a protected characteristic.
Provided a claim is brought within 3 months from the last act of discrimination, there is no minimum length of employment required before a claim can be made, just a belief that the employee was discriminated against because of their religion and / or religious beliefs. Job applicants, workers and employees all are protected.
As a claim would be brought on the basis of discrimination, there is no cap on the award which could be made in an employment tribunal if the employer is found to have discriminated against an individual or a group of individuals on the basis of their religion and / or religious beliefs.