A power plant has sparked a religious row by changing its prayer policy. The US-based company used to allow Muslim employees to leave its production line twice a shift to pray. But the change of policy means religious workers must now pray during their lunch break or they will be fired.
The business said the rule change was necessary as the manufacturing environment does not allow for unscheduled breaks in production. A law written by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission says that the company does not have the right to tamper with employees' beliefs. Employers in the UK should consult employees in relation to the steps they can take to support those who observe a religion.
When the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations were introduced on 2 December, 2003, it became unlawful to discriminate against workers because of religion or similar belief. The regulations also cover providers of vocational training.
In 2013 a Bedford Employment tribunal ruled a top supermarket chain indirectly discriminated against two Muslim employees after placing new restrictions on the use of a prayer room. The ruling was hailed as a victory for people of all faiths who wish to pray at work.
If an employer provides a multi-faith prayer room it will enable employees to observe their religion in a private and comfortable setting. Clear rules should be put in place in relation to how the room should be used and this will also help to prevent any conflict.
Discussions around prayer times should be considered in a fair and reasonable manner, as any alterations to working hours should not disadvantage employees who observe a different religion, or those who are not religious.
If an employee is treated unfairly on grounds of religious belief it may be unlawful discrimination. ‘Religious belief’ covers any religious, spiritual or non-secular belief system
Employees also have the right not to be discriminated against because they do not hold a religious belief.
Acas have produced a helpful guide titled Religion or Belief and the Workplace.
Link to Acas guide if needed is http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/f/l/religion_1.pdf