QAN EMPLOYEE has asked whether he can have Friday afternoons off work during the winter months as he says that it is the Sabbath in his religion. Would this be a flexible work application?
A There are specific rights to request flexible working arrangements in respect of hours, time and location of work. However these only apply where the change helps the employee care for a young child, though this will be extended in April to carers of adults.
Under the Jewish faith the Sabbath begins on Friday evening as the sun sets, and lasts through Saturday until the sun has set again. There are no specific flexible working rights in relation to religion.
However the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 do make it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the grounds of religion in the employment process. These laws have been in the news a lot lately due to some high profile disputes regarding the wearing of religious symbols. However the provisions are not limited to employment terms restricting what can or cannot be worn in the workplace. They extend also to setting terms and conditions relating to hours of work.
The employee may complain that the requirement to work Friday afternoons is a "neutral provision, criterion or practice" that puts persons of his particular religion or belief at a particular disadvantage. This would amount to indirect discrimination unless you could show that the requirement was justified. To a large extent this will depend upon the nature of the job.
When assessing justification, consider how big an impact the absence of this employee on a Friday afternoon will have on the business.
Nicky Benson, Halliwells LLP Solicitors, 100 Old Hall Street, Liverpool L3 9TD. Ring 0870 365 8000, fax 0870 365 8004 or e-mail nicky.benson@halli wells, com