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Should you grant time off for religious holidays?

Region in the workplace

Should you grant time off for religious holidays?

As we approach the  Easter break, most of us take for granted the fact that we will be granted time off to celebrate the holiday, regardless of our religious beliefs. It is sometimes easy to forget that we are now a country  of very diverse cultures and beliefs. How will you as an employer deal with requests from members of your staff who wish to observe their religious holidays. Under various employment Acts such as the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act we have a duty as employers not to discriminate on grounds of religion. How do we then go about dealing with such requests should they arise.

Dealing with holidays of any nature can always stir up some problems between employers and employees leaving companies never quite certain what they can or cannot impose. In most cases an employer needs to weigh up a holiday request in accordance with the business needs at that particular time, for example: if there are already people off at that time and allowing someone else to be off will jeopardise the business or a busy period where everyone knows that it’s all hands on deck during this period.

This leaves employers struggling further with whether to allow time off for religious holidays. Here it is important to remember that a religious holiday is a special occasion that is important to that particular religion and therefore it is only a natural request to want to take that day off from work to be able to celebrate that time with their friends and family.

Taking time off for a religious holiday is as simple as taking time off when an employee requests a day’s annual leave. The only difference is that if someone’s annual leave is not convenient for business reasons you can discuss this with them and see if there is any chance of moving the date, whereas with a religious holiday the date and time is fixed.

Unless as an employer you can specifically justify why the employee cannot take that day as part of their annual leave, this could be classed as indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination is when an employee feels less fairly treated due to a company decision, for example: not being allowed time off for a religious occasion.

Of course employers should always have rules about holidays and look at busy periods for a business. Some companies have particular shut down periods for example at Christmas or if their business requires machinery to be switched off at once for a period of time and it is usual practice to inform employees of this as soon as they join the company to allow them to plan their holiday entitlement around the times that they must take annual leave.  This avoids any employee believing that they are being indirectly discriminated against by imposing specific time off.

As an employer it is important to be aware of any religious holidays which will be relevant to your employees so that if and when you are asked for time off for a religious holiday, it has already been considered in terms of the business requirements at that time.  It is also important to remember that religious holidays are rarely longer than a day or two at a time so where ever possible it is important to take this into account and allow your employee the time off to celebrate in accordance with their religion.

Using recruitment agencies – is this always a good thing?

Recruiting staff

Recruiting staff

When recruiting for new staff it is always important to look closely at the position that you are recruiting for and how skilled or detailed in experience you need this person to be. The costs of recruiting can be high whatever method you use but whereas when using a recruitment agency they are able to take the weight off you for the recruitment process which can be very costly and timely if you are doing it yourself.

 

A recruitment agency has access to a network of professional CV’s and as they do this on a daily basis and can access candidates faster and easier than placing an advert for example. It’s not always a cost effective way of recruiting though as recruitment fees can be quite high and you need to be able to balance whether the cost of paying a recruitment agency is more than you doing the recruitment in house.

 

Companies tend to use recruitment agencies for more specialised positions or senior positions where it is useful for an outside person to interview that candidate first and go through all the checks, discuss the vacancy position with them and assess their suitability and interest in the position. For an employer apart from initially giving a brief to a recruitment company and agreeing a fee for the placing of any candidate, the recruitment company will then do the rest until they find you candidates and it is time for you to interview the people you pick.

 

It is crucial that for any business, that you look at the vacancy in which you want to recruit for and establish the process and whether you have people within your company that can do this as part of their role or whether it will fall on your shoulders. Recruitment agencies are very good at taking that away from employers and if it comes down to running a business and recruiting staff, then running the business must always come first and it is better to accept the costs and accept the help from the recruitment agency.

 

Is it always a good thing using a recruitment agency? – I think the answer to this is depending on the circumstances of workload, your business and what position you are recruiting for. If you are recruiting for a general position eg: office administrator then I think you would be just as quick and cheaper in terms of not paying a recruitment fee by placing an advert online or in your local paper or local university etc and seeing what comes from that first.

Right to request flexible working – what does it mean?

From 1st July 2014, the government extended the right to request flexible working arrangements to all employees.  Given that there are currently over 1.3 million small businesses in the UK, most of which employ between 5 – 250 staff, this will have a significant impact on the small business owner.

What is flexible working?

Flexible working provides employees with the opportunity to organise their working day or week around their personal life. This means employees, can if agreed with their employers; choose less conventional working arrangements including compressed hours, 4-day weeks, working from home, and job shares. The new law entitles any employee with 26 weeks’ service with an employer the right to ask for more flexible work options. Previously only employees with young children or similar caring responsibilities reserved the right to request flexible working, with effect from 1st July 2014; this right is now extended to all workers.

There is growing demand in the workplace for flexible working from both men and women

There is growing demand in the workplace for flexible working from both men and women

What does flexible working mean for your business?

The right to request flexible working applies to all employees regardless of the size  of the organization. Small businesses can choose to view this in one of two ways; the change could have a significantly negatively impact on the business where the employer relies on all staff to be in the office to support to day to day running of the business. In such cases, the business might struggle to offer more flexibility in the way that its employees work

For other businesses, they may see this as way of retaining and attracting good staff. This is becoming of increasing significance as the job market starts to gather momentum and staff in most sectors as finding more job openings with other organizations. It is worth  noting that a number of small businesses however do have informal arrangements in place. A very common example is where the employee stays to work late during peak times of business activity but is able to come in late or have time off during quieter times where for instance employees might be required to work late.

So is flexible working really a bad thing for small business?

It depends on which of the views you chose to take. For some if for example, they are able to offer home working to some of their staff, they are more likely to remain loyal to the organization in times of austerity when the business is not able to offer pay benefits. There are number of ways  that small businesses can and do offer flexibility. Examples are early Friday finish, late start following  a late finish the previous day and occasional home working.  Good will on both sides goes a long way to ensuring a harmonious working environment for all.

Even where employees request flexible arrangements there is no obligation on the employer to grant the request. The typical types of reasons that are given for refusal include,

·         Impact of the business in terms of customer demands

  • ·         Inability to reorganise the workload to accommodate the request
  • ·         Impact of the over business performance.

 

 A word of caution however, business that refuse to grant flexible working must ensure that there are fair and transparent reasons for doing so. They must also ensure that they are fair and consistent in the way that requests are granted or refused. For example, an employer who grants flexible working to their female staff but not to their male could be seen to be discriminating against its male staff     

To mark the introduction of the legislation, conciliation service ACAS has published a code of practice to give employers advice about considering flexible working requests. Currently, requests have to be dealt with within three-months, and they can only be rejected if they meet one of eight specific criteria. ACAS chairman Brendan Barber said: “We hope the code will help employers handle flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, and which will fit employees’ individual circumstances.”

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