An extract from Muslims in the Workplace “A good Practice Guide for Employers and Employees” by the Muslim Council of Britain:
4.12 Muslim men and women are required to offer five daily prayers – salah – which are as follows:
- Fajr (morning prayer) – starts at dawn and ends with sunrise
- Zuhr (early afternoon prayer) – starts just after midday when the sun begins to decline
- Asr (later afternoon prayer) – between mid-afternoon and sunset
- Maghrib (evening prayer) – just after sunset
- Isha (night prayer) – starts from the disappearance of twilight
4.13 In some denominations, the two afternoon prayers and two evening prayers can be performed together. In other denominations, however, stipulations are more stringent on praying each individual prayer at its allocated time. This means that during winter, when the day is much shorter, two or three short prayer breaks at work may be requested by Muslim employees in quick succession. Where a prayer is preceded by an act of purification, the wudhu, each prayer break may require between 10-12 minutes. The wudhu itself will require access to a face and foot basin as it involves washing the face, arms (up to the elbows) and feet. During prayer, Muslims face Mecca. This direction is called qibla and in Britain, is in a south-easterly direction. Muslims can pray more or less anywhere, provided it is clean and quiet. The main congregational prayer, Jumu’ah, is held on Friday between 1 and 2 pm and in most denominations its observance in a mosque is mandatory.
4.14 Time off for prayers: Employers may expect Muslim employees to pray during their break entitlements. However, it is still necessary for employers to consider how long an individual employee requires for their prayers. Some Muslim employees may only wish to take 5 minutes for each prayer, and simply pray alone in their room. Others may require longer and wish to pray in congregation. Employers should be flexible where they can and consult with employees about all possible alternatives.
Example A Muslim employee working for a large company requests time off at specific times to observe her daily prayers. The company has the staff to cover for her if necessary during these times. The employer refuses this time off. This would amount to indirect discrimination which cannot be objectively justified as the employer will not suffer any adverse effects from allowing her time off for prayers and will therefore be acting unlawfully. Where an employer allows non-Muslim employees to take smoking or coffee breaks outside of their usual break entitlements but requires Muslim employees to pray during their break entitlements, this would amount to direct discrimination.
4.15 Jumu’ah (Friday) congregational prayers: Employees may request time off to observe their Jumu’ah prayers, which must be said in congregation and are usually held in a mosque. As mentioned previously, the Regulations do not require employers to provide time off for prayers. However, where employees request time off that they will make up later and their request is refused, an employer will be found to be discriminating indirectly if the fulfilment of such requests cannot be shown to adversely affect their business, and directly if other employees are allowed time off for other reasons – for example for doctors’ appointments.
Example A small sandwich shop recruits two employees, one of whom is Muslim. The shop requires both employees to be present between 1 and 2pm as it is the busiest time of the day. The Muslim employee requests permission to attend Friday congregational prayers from 1 to 2pm. The shop’s refusal to accommodate the Muslim employee disadvantages him in practising his religion and would be indirect discrimination. However, the shop would be able to justify the refusal on the basis that there is a real business need that both employees be present in order to manage the work at the busiest time of the day. The action is proportionate because it is a small business, and there is no other alternative due to limited staff and resources. If the employer was a large supermarket or there were simply more members of staff, it would be harder for the employer to show that this action was justified.