In recent years, many of us have been looking at our policies and hiring practices to consider how we can improve diversity within our team and foster a more inclusive work culture.
Following the Black Lives Matter movement, businesses in all sectors were forced to face some uncomfortable truths about unconscious bias within their hiring. Now, as we look to build on this, many businesses are now considering what approach they should take when allowing their team to celebrate religious and seasonal holidays.
In the UK, the Christian-originated festivals of Easter and Christmas are public / bank holidays. Those who don’t celebrate these holidays, for example, those who choose to celebrate Islamic or Jewish holidays, could be being forced to take annual leave when they don’t want to.
What can we do to improve religious holiday policies in the team?
• Some companies are beginning to adopt a ‘swap policy’ where they allow a team member to swap a day of leave on Christmas Day for a date during their own religious celebration.
• Consider adding religious festivals, such as Eid and Hannukah, to your annual celebration calendar so they are on the same standing as Christmas and Easter.
• Ensure religious holidays are clearly noted in your employee handbook, and that this doesn’t just refer to Christian-originated holidays.
• Be flexible with employees who celebrate Ramadan. You could set up a prayer space in the office or allow them to shift their working pattern to allow them to pray at the appropriate time of day.
• If an employee is fasting as part of their religious commitments, make sure they are considered if you were to run bake sales or team lunches on these dates.
• Ensure you offer dietary-appropriate food at all team events and celebrations throughout the year, for example vegetarian or alcohol free.
• Employees who celebrate Eid will need additional flexibility as the date depends on the Islamic lunar calendar.
Religious holiday dates to be aware of
This is not an exhaustive list.
• The Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter are celebrated in December and March/April respectively.
• The Hindu festival, Diwali, is typically celebrated in November.
• The Islamic festivals of Ramadan and Eid, celebrated in April-June, and Hajj, a pilgrimage some employees may take to Mecca.
• The Jewish festival of Hannukah takes place in December and Pesach, also known as Passover, takes place in April.
• The Buddhist festival of Vesak is typically celebrated in May.
Where do we stand legally?
Given the rise in employment tribunals, it’s important to make sure you are aware of where you stand legally and protect yourself.
The Equality Act of 2012 protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs.
There is no statutory right to time off for religious reasons in the UK. However, if you refuse a reasonable request from an employee, this could result in a claim of discrimination and lead to an employment tribunal.
Can we still celebrate Christmas?
Yes, you can still celebrate Christmas with your team if you choose to.
As this has become a secular occasion, many people in the UK who aren’t of a religious background still celebrate this holiday. But what is important is that you have the same policies in place for those who don’t celebrate this holiday, and opt to celebrate their own religious holiday instead.
If you have a large portion of your team opting to celebrate another holiday, for example the Buddhist festival of Vesak, you could consider celebrating with a party in the same way you would for Christmas.
If you do celebrate Christmas with parties and events, as well as other events throughout the year like Summer celebrations, it’s worth ensuring you have an inclusive range of options available for your team such as vegetarian food and non-alcoholic drink options.
However you choose to celebrate religious holidays within your team, it’s always best to approach it with sensitivity and inclusivity. Ensure your team feel catered for in all areas so both you and them can make the most of the celebrations.