HR Advice — Workplace Prayer
Dear Gabby, workplace prayer is becoming an issue.
We have several employees, all of different religions, who choose to pray or to read religious materials at some point during the work day. It’s never been an issue because these employees always practice their religion over their break times, and of course we support that. But now I have an employee who is asking me about taking time to pray during the work day outside of regular break times. Do I have to give the employee this extra time? And do we have to pay for extra break times too? I want to be respectful to the employee, but we also have a business to run. What do I need to be thinking about as I consider this request?
Perplexed by Prayer
Accommodating different religious beliefs and practices in the workplace can be a tricky endeavor. It’s important to both do the right thing by your employees and also make sure you’re being compliant with the many laws regarding religion, or workplace prayer (such as Title VII and EEO guidance). The key thing to keep in mind is the practice of reasonable accommodation – employers must always consider what is reasonable for to them to accommodate, and what may not be, when it comes to an employee’s request for time and even space to pray.
Depending upon what state your business is in and your employees’ scheduled hours, you may be required to provide employees with specific break times throughout the day. Employees may use that time in any way they choose, such as to eat, make personal phone calls, or to pray. If possible, allowing some flexibility as to when those break times occur is a great way to allow employees the most flexibility in using their time for whatever is important to them.
But what if your employees ask to pray outside of designated break times? If you are an employer with an assembly line, for example, and an employee’s request to pray outside of the regular break time would cause the entire production line to shut down, that may not be reasonable for you, as the employer, to accommodate. But what if your business is an office environment, and there are no set break times? Let’s say most employees take their morning break around 10:15am, but you have an employee who has asked to take their break at 10:45am instead in order to pray. In an office environment, this may not disrupt the workplace in any way. And if employees are allowed to take a one hour break for lunch anytime between 11am and 2pm, for example, then it would probably be reasonable to allow the same flexibility for morning break times. Flexibility with existing paid and unpaid break times is the goal.
And what if your employees ask for space to pray? If you have multiple conference rooms or small private rooms, it may be wise to allow employees to schedule time to use one of these rooms for any reason, whether work-related or personal. Employees may choose to use those rooms to pray, to make personal phone calls for a doctor’s appointment (as an example), or even as a quiet refuge from their own cubicle or open work-space so they can have some privacy and quiet time to focus on a project.
Thanks for your great question!
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*Please note that neither Gabby nor the Mercer PeoplePro Pros are able to provide legal advice on any matter. For legal questions please refer to your in-house council for guidance.