146

As a line manager, I've "inherited" (from a previous boss who has left the company) an employee who carries out a fast (i.e., not eating) during the day for a period of time as part of a religious observance. (It's similar to Ramadan, as I understand it.) Let's call them 'Charlie'.

In our department, we have critical deadlines, client crisis situations, etc., which we have to be "on the ball" for. Mistakes, missed deadlines, etc., have a financial penalty (+ damage to our reputation). As a result of fasting (low blood sugar, I assume), Charlie is making a lot of mistakes, which I then have to step in and re-do, being 'hangry' and rude to co-workers and management, not absorbing instructions (e.g., "ensure this email stays internal" and forwards it to the client without thinking), etc. Charlie explicitly blamed this on the fasting (which is how I know about the fast in the first place).

There isn't anything "lower stakes", I can re-assign Charlie to as

  1. that's just the nature of the work we do and
  2. we are short staffed anyway and typically working in "overclocked" mode to meet deadlines.

We are a team of 3 including me as the team leader / line manager, but should really be more like 5. (edited to add: And I'm not sure I should 're-assign' someone's tasks based on religion-related factors anyway - may be an issue in itself?!)

Outside of this 'fasting' period, Charlie normally makes a number of mistakes and screws up in various ways anyway, and we have had performance-related discussions in the past (which Charlie managed to get out of with HR!), but it's significantly worse due to fasting - to the degree that I am having to "damage control" mistakes and try to make up time in an already fast paced process.

I realise I can't just ask Charlie to "don't observe this fast because it's inconvenient to our company" and I know religious observance is protected and so on. But I still don't feel it's right that we (myself and the other team member) take on all of Charlie's work due to him being a liability for a month. I've taken on most of the extra workload myself as manager, as I don't feel it's right to put it on my other "direct reports".

What I've tried:

  • Talking to my own boss, who was very "gun shy" about legal requirements for respecting religious observance etc., and basically said I have to suck it up myself and make up for the gap. HR said basically the same with undertones of 'discrimination'.
  • Talking to Charlie (as part of general 'chat') about how they feel during this period and Charlie described feeling light headed, dizzy, "not quite with it", etc.
  • Taking on the extra workload myself and giving Charlie 'made up' tasks to do (e.g., "check and update this documentation", when I know it doesn't really need updating).
  • I don't know much about this religion, but based on 'googling', you can get exemptions from fasting for medical reasons, but it doesn't seem to me that Charlie fits into that (and I don't think I can ask them!)

My question is: How to address underperformance and mistakes with an employee who's a poor performer anyway but it is at "breaking point" due to religious fasting?

Clarifications based on the comments: - the fast is for about a month, like 4 weeks (workdays) - we have been "short staffed" for about 4-5 months, but the problems go further back in that even when we had more people a lot of time was spent "coaching" etc to the extent that it would have been easier to just do it myself most of the time. The cause in my opinion was the company needs people who are much more skilled which they couldn't get for the advertised salary.

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    Could you elaborate on being short-staffed and having to work overtime during that month? Also, you say he's a poor performer even without fasting. Could you elaborate on this? – An old man in the sea. Feb 1 at 9:19
  • Could you please clarify how often he fasts? Is it every week on friday, a whole month every year or something else? Also, depending on the kind of work, making mistakes is expected to happen and should be dealt with appropriately, without harassing whoever made the mistake. One approach I've seen for software with strong quality requirements was to have testers and reviewers for every function produced. Hence a programmer would only have a task completed once it had been reviewed, corrected and then approved. It also does not help to be short staffed. – Mefitico Feb 1 at 12:32
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    Clearly HR is not doing its job (which is typical of HR. They are terrible at actually dealing with employee problems). Your company appears to have multiple functional problems. – Carl Witthoft Feb 1 at 13:59
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    Ramadan (or similar practice) is not really fasting (in terms of generally eating less); it's fasting during the day, but excessive eating after sunset (in Saudi Arabia they have cases of people having their belly turned due to excessive over-eating). the "basal metabolic rate" should be met, most likely even the "active metabolic rate", as it is required to perform work. it appears to a convenient excuse to keep the job, despite regularly under-performing. additional hire suggested, to reduce the stress for the whole team - with the option of already having a well-tested replacement. – Martin Zeitler Feb 5 at 17:15
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    @CarlWitthoft HRs job is not and has never been 'dealing with employee problems' it's always been 'protecting the company from legal risk in regard to employees' HR is not the employee's friend, it's the company's friend and will always favor the company interest over the employee interest. In this case, it seems they felt the risk of legal action on religious discrimination grounds was significant enough for them to advise OP to not take action regarding Charlie. – MarkTO Feb 5 at 19:26

19 Answers 19

363

My question is: how to address underperformance and mistakes with an employee who's a poor performer anyway but it is at "breaking point" due to religious fasting?

Don't treat it as a fasting problem, just as any other performance issue. Charlie is using it as an excuse.

I fast regularly, it does not impact on my work performance because I don't let it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Feb 2 at 14:47
306

In my opinion, your biggest problem is not Charlie or his fasting, it's this:

we are short staffed anyway and typically working in "overclocked" mode to meet deadlines. We are a team of 3 including me as the team leader / line manager but should really be more like 5

It seems that you haven't considered that operating in perpetual crisis mode could be the reason for Charlie's poor performance. The negative health effects of being under stress for extended periods of time are well-documented; Charlie's fasting could merely exacerbate these effects.

Then there is the mental health aspect of getting up every morning to go to a job that you know is going to be unpleasant due to stress. Do you really expect someone is going to be able to give their all in such an environment?

In other words: Charlie is quite possibly a symptom, not a cause.

I'm not ruling out the possibility that Charlie is flat-out incompetent, but until or unless your dysfunctional work environment is fixed, you cannot reliably make that determination. Indeed, should you dismiss Charlie, he may very well use the environment as a reason to contest his dismissal.

And if your management isn't willing to help you create the environment to allow you and your subordinates to succeed, you need to find somewhere else to work.

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    Not to mention that firing someone if you are short handed is a painful process. Don't expect a new hire to be up and running for at least 6 months. It is going to get worse before it gets better. – Stian Yttervik Jan 31 at 8:17
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    For a non-fasting example of the detrimental effects of prolonged Crunch, I spent a period of 9 months in crunch due to mismanagement. I got stressed out, became snappy and most important, made mistakes which further stressed me out and caused me to go into a death-spiral of stress and anxiety before I quit the job. Prolonged Crunch is an unacceptable state for everyone. If you spend more than a couple weeks in it, you need to step back and revisit your deadlines because something is clearly very very wrong. Charlie's Fasting might make things worse, but it's undoubtedly not the root cause. – Ruadhan2300 Jan 31 at 12:39
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    I've also experienced the shocking decline in productivity, success and caring-at-all-about-this-job that is associated with a prolonged period over overwork, stress and 'crunch'. It has an incredibly powerful demoralizing and demotivating effect on many people, in addition to loss of precision associated with spending every day in a fight-or-flight cloud of stress. – Meg Jan 31 at 15:57
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    @StianYttervik - "It is going to get worse before it gets better." Well, you're half-right. – Don Branson Feb 1 at 21:55
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    @dwizum Firstly, "perfect" doesn't exist, and one person's perfect is not another's. Secondly: impossible no, unfair yes: if a person or team is being setup for failure because they're not being given the environment in which to succeed, how can it ever be fair to judge them as failures? Yes, there are people who survive and thrive in such adverse work environments, but they are very much in the minority. – Ian Kemp Feb 2 at 6:09
104

Document specific mistakes and the effect they have on the business. Treat this employee the way you would any employee that was not delivering the level of performance required by the job.

42

While it is very important for employers to be accommodating of religious practices, it is also important for employees to ensure that their religious practices are not preventing them from doing their jobs. There are certain religious allowances that an employer should be able to make for their employees (allowing time for daily prayers, offering religious-inclusive food offerings, etc.), but it sounds like the current situation has gone far beyond that. This employee's religious practices are now heavily impacting their ability to do their job, and that's not something you should have to overlook.

Before you do anything, talk to your legal department to see if there will be any issues with disciplining this employee for their performance. The last thing you need is to open yourself up to a discrimination lawsuit. Once you've done that, engage in the appropriate disciplinary practices, but focus more on the fact that their job performance is suffering. You should definitely bring up issues that arise due to this employee's fasting, but let them be the one to say that their fasting is the cause of it. If they do, then you can say that you understand, but they still have to be able to fulfill their job requirements, and this employee is not. Lean heavily on the fact that they were already underperforming during non-fasting periods. Make this a job performance issue, not a religious issue.

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    And the legal ramifications vary wildly by country. – Carl Witthoft Feb 1 at 13:57
19

This is just an off-the-wall suggestion, but maybe he’d be interested in changing his working hours during fasting times? If it’s like Ramadan, then he’s fasting while the sun is up and eating at night. Perhaps he could sleep during the day and work nighttime hours during the holiday. Obviously this reduces his usefulness for some tasks, but depending on the nature of the work there may be plenty that could be accomplished on the night shift.

  • If it's similar to Ramadan, then the cultural expectation is probably that he will have a festive meal with his family every night (iftar). – Ben Crowell Feb 1 at 23:20
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    That's a cultural expectation though, not a religious one. And there's also a cultural expectation that he takes his job seriously. In the past, I've had employers who are quite happy to vary my work hours during Ramadan, so that I'm not trying to work when I'm hungriest. I think it's very likely that a similar arrangement could work for this Charlie. – Dawood ibn Kareem Feb 2 at 0:48
13

Several answers suggest treating this as a performance problem by going to HR and legal, but your boss and HR have already said they don't want to get involved. That leaves trying to come up with strategies with Charlie to mitigate the impact directly. How could you try to address the problem if Charlie, say, was the owner's relative and any HR/discipline solution was deemed impossible?

After "Charlie described feeling light headed, dizzy, "not quite with it", etc," did you try to brainstorm any accommodations to potentially mitigate the effects of these problems in the workplace? Would the situation be at all amenable to trying out a shift in work hours, a short nap when he gets lightheaded, taking breaks to walk around the block or splash some water on his face, or other adjustments (I don't know your workplace, I don't know what works for Charlie, and I can't say how practical these ideas are, but you can consider them)? Could you work out a signal to recognize when he's being "hangry" and it might be best to step out and take a moment?

There are also other ways to try to address the pattern of making mistakes, which is a problem even when not fasting: checklists, avoiding distractions, making important information explicit, peer review at critical points, breaking things down into smaller tasks, limiting the number of tasks at once, etc... See also questions like How do I stop making silly mistakes at work?

When mistakes do happen, and they're inevitable, can you and Charlie take a moment to understand why, not to cast blame, but to learn from them and try to prevent future errors? Charlie knows he's making mistakes, and presumably would prefer not to, so perhaps try to brainstorm solutions together. For example, if instructions are not absorbed and ignored, could they be given more clearly, such as in a list? Could he write down the key instructions to better absorb them? Solutions can be low-tech; if emails are frequently sent to the wrong people, maybe he tries something as simple as a "STOP! Check email recipients" sticky note on his monitor near the send button.

And, as other answers have suggested, you can continue to document all this, along with the things you're trying, while you work on trying to address the problems.

11

To me it sounds like you have 3 problems:

A.You have someone who is generally sloppy/makes mistakes.

B.You have someone who is particularly sloppy, due to an external factor (religious fasting in this case)

C. Your team is under the pump, and does not have the capacity to be able to pick up any slack (whatever that may be).

Solutions:

A. Work with the person to form a personal development plan. (But consider waiting a few weeks or so after the fasting period is over, so that you don't have the appearance unlawful behavior/they can use that against you). Suggest Charlie contact the companies confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see if they can help with managing their stress/ other external factors. Also it may resolve itself. See point C.

B. Have a chat with Charlie on how you can help them manage their external factor. Approach this in the general way you would if the external factor was say Kidney stones, a sick child keeping them up at night, a hard drive failure or fasting. Then move on to the details on how the two of you can manage it. e.g., With Ramadan (yes I know it's something else) my understanding is you can eat before sun up. So perhaps they can make a point of (pre-preparing and) eating Low GI (slow burn) foods first thing (not just quickly rushing to make some 2 min ramen noodles before sun up). Perhaps contact someone who does practice Ramadan fasting and ask them what they do to manage fasting (that way rather than appearing to be discriminating on religion, you are actually getting guidance, assistance being more inclusive of staff/peoples religious beliefs)

C. Your team is under the pump, and can't handle one person having some external factors affecting their work. Well something was bound to happen. Something like kidneys stones, a sick child keeping you up at night, a hard drive failure. Something else may also happen to another team member!

Your team is not going to perform well under those conditions fasting or not. So you or your boss need to adjust something.

  • Get more resources.
  • Prioritize work load (Perhaps charlie can answer emails as their first task of the day (before they are hangery), then close outlook until mid day when they spend no more than an hour on email.
    • A small meeting is a good meeting (the cost of meetings grows exponentially with the number of people in them)
    • A fast meeting is a good meeting, develop a culture of only discussing what is relevant for everyone in the meeting, and getting out of the meeting ASAP (break off a smaller meeting if there is something only a few people need to discuss)
    • Work with the client to prioritize what is important to them.
    • Work with the client to reset expectations (you are not going to deliver on time as it is (fasting/charlie's performance or not), so it is better to rip off the bandaid now rather than later).
  • What can you do to improve workflow (e.g., investing some time to automate a software deployment pipeline), which will free up time to be working on the deliverable?

Improving work conditions is going to help all of your team. And Charlies performance issues may just resolve themselves, or give the two of you breathing room to be able to successfully address them.

5

I agree with the previous answers. However, one detail was not mentioned (or I missed it).

I understand that Charlie is not necessarily a bad / aggressive person, and personal discussions a possible. Therefore, the next may help.

If problems become aggravated when Charlie is fasting, then it may be a general nutrition problem with him. Recommend him to have a more nutritious food when he is not fasting. The most recommended:

  • fresh vegetables and fruits;
  • avoidance of fast food;
  • avoidance of fried food (better: raw, boiled, cooked, baked...);
  • avoidance of excess of "heavy" foods (fats, eggs...);
  • avoidance of mind-affecting stuff (alcohol, drugs, cigars);
  • avoidance of too many additives in the food (coloring, taste improvement, preservatives, hormones);
  • increase time spent in fresh air - ideally parks, forests; he may go away in the weekends to refresh.

On the same page, he may want to have a medical check - it may help him understand better how to deal with things.

Does he have similar problems in the personal life?

Bottom line: besides lawyers, HR, firing etc. - you may be able to improve his life, and hopefully improve his job performance.

Edit to add a Note: Fasting is not the problem (as was already said). The fasting is just a context to emphasize an already existing problem.

Edit to add other Note: This is true story from older job. I was not directly involved, but the information got to my ears. Similar problem, there were "incompatibilities" between company and employee. It seems that the discussion were professional enough that the company got involved and actually found a more suitable job for the employee at another company.

  • 1
    It's not Charlie's boss's role to give him recommendations concerning food and lifestyle. Doing so would be very patronising and could be understood as unprofessional behavior of his. – BigMadAndy Feb 2 at 22:58
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    The role of the boss is to "get the max" from the employees. Of course, there should be a discussion,, and there should be acceptance from Charlie to have all this discussion. Moreover, there is a trend that bosses co spider themselves leaders - and leaders are supposed to be very close to people. At the very least, the boss can recommend a set of medical tests - and the medic would make the recommendations. – virolino Feb 3 at 6:57
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    When the alternative is ending the work contract, we cannot really speak about "patronizing" - it is about saving a sinking boat. – virolino Feb 3 at 6:59
  • Generic "eco-conscious, Whole Foods crowd" eating advice isn't nutritionally valid in an application like this where the fast is the crux of the matter. Heavy fried-food eating that makes you not hungry for 8 hours may be just the ticket for a fast. We don't know! – Harper Feb 3 at 22:41
  • @Harper: maybe I did not explain myself very clear. I did not imply that exactly 1 day before fasting the diet should be changed. I hinted that the entire lifestyle to be changed, in order to strengthen the body - to make it cope with fasting. In that context, yes, he may apply the trick of eating lots of french fries 1 day before. – virolino Feb 4 at 5:12
3

Charlie should be guided as to the need to perform consistently better at all times.

Don't make "religion" or "fasting" part of the problem; I have had people on my team who fast at times and they've been just fine - maybe not quite as energetic but perfectly competent.

Fasting is something that should be approached with sensitivity but ultimately is neither an excuse or a get out of jail card.

0

Ask him if he wants to go home on the days he is fasting.

If he asks about pay then you could suggest he uses up his annual leave entitlements.

You'll find his attitude will change pretty quick.

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    This attitude might be treated as harassment for religious reasons so I would advise against at. Be super extra cautious about this kind of approach, especially in a passive aggressive way. – Ister Jan 31 at 9:24
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    @Ister I don't see how this is harassment. Solar is not suggesting that the employee be forced to go home - just that it be offered as an option. As with any optional leave, he would need to use the company's standard rules for PTO if he wanted that leave to be paid. The employee would still be free to decline and stay at work (in which case some other solution would be required.) – Steve-O Jan 31 at 14:13
  • @Ister exactly what Steve-O said. It will open up a dialog with the hopes of bringing the performance to the attention of the employee. No one is harassing anyone, we didn't even know the fasting was for religious reasons, he might be a cross-fitter vegan kook doing it for fun. – solarflare Jan 31 at 22:14
  • He is not fit to work when he is fasting therefore it should count as a sick leave. – Onlyjob Feb 1 at 8:14
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    @Steve-O as I said, as a manager you have to be super-cautious. The problem is it might be considered that you're enforcing annual/sick leave because of Charlie's religion observations. The direct problem here is underperfomance and manager has to focus on that. Suggesting taking a leave because of religious fasting can be read as "I don't like your religious observations" even if you don't mean that. This is a short road to lawsuit. – Ister Feb 1 at 9:53
0

See my usual suggestion in the second part.

As lead you're responsible to making sure tasks have been understood and are performed to specifications.

Apply extra effort with Charlie.

Use:

  • detailed task outlines
  • priorities
  • milestones
  • insert quality control procedures with checklists
  • Drop by Charlies' desk frequently to check progress and health

This way hopefully the mistakes and additional workload for the rest will lessen.

Of course this also means you're missing time to do other work tasks, make sure management is aware of this.

Quite frankly, these procedures should be in your daily routine with the whole team in general, only not as intense as with Charlie.

Normally I would suggest (and you still should try it if the first part won't work):

Inform management (substantiated by hard facts) that during this period your project will be delayed X days and the deadline (if applicable) won't be met unless:

  • Additional / replacement staff is hired while Charlie effectively is "out of order"
  • critical tasks are diverted to third parties or other departments
  • Charlie's fasting period is calculated into the budget / time frame for the project

The reason of course is that picking up the slack in an understaffed team puts an undue (potentially illegal-check in your locale) strain on the remaining members.

They probably won't budge but at least you did you due diligence

Keep a paper trail of all of your efforts and Charlies progress.

0

Sounds to me like Charlie is trying to use his religion as a "get out of jail free" card here; he's not competent to do his job, so he says "I'm not competent because of my religion, therefore you can't fire me because it would be discrimination". IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that's not how it works. You can't say "We don't allow people who fast at this company", or "We don't allow people of xxx religion at this company", but you most certainly can say "We don't tolerate people who make as many mistakes as you make at this company". Unless Charlie can reliably make a link between how his fasting is a direct cause of his incompetence, I have trouble believing you will have any blowback. And no, "I'm fasting therefore I don't have enough energy therefore I can't think properly therefore I make mistakes" is likely not good enough (IANAL); as others have said, there are plenty of people who fast and don't make mistakes.

It sounds to me like Charlie simply doesn't care about his work, and he knows that he doesn't need to care because he can just play the religion card if anyone looks at him the wrong way. It sounds like management at your company needs legal advice to determine where protection based on religion ends, because until then Charlie can basically do anything, and if management doesn't like it then he can say "I have to do this because of my fasting".

  • I understand the question differently, i.e. it doesn't sound to me like Charlie is incompetent and uses religion as an excuse, but I am curious about such a case: what if someone invents a religion that requires them to be sloppy at work? What if there is a religion that requires you to be intoxicated from sunup to sundown? When does something stop qualifying as required by religion therefore you cannot use it against someone? Your question does not really answer that, only works around it by saying 'Charlie is also incompetent outside fasting' (which may or may not be correct, we don't know). – Luc Feb 3 at 12:02
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    @Luc IANAL, but I believe "discrimination based on religion" only counts for widely recognized religions and not ones you made up on the spot. – Ertai87 Feb 4 at 15:09
-1

[Talked] to Charlie (as part of general 'chat') about how [he felt] during this period and
Charlie described feeling light headed, dizzy, "not quite with it", etc

He brought up the fasting (that's how you know about it) and he said he wasn't feeling well because of it, so it wouldn't be illegal (per se) to mention it/make helpful suggestions to him.
(Except suggesting he shouldn't fast... that'd be very wrong.)

You could suggest that he speak with a nutritionist about it.
If I read between the lines correctly he is able to eat from sundown to sunrise.
There are probably foods that can help him deal with this. Addressing it with a nutritionist may help.

My layman's example is if he is eating a high sugar breakfast right before sunrise then the sugar crash will happen early in the day. A high protean low sugar breakfast would probably be a better choice - at a minimum hunger will come later.

Note that the approach here is to help him, not to suggest he shouldn't do it, or that fasting is bad, or that it is bad for him (which could cause legal questions because of his religion).

For the record, IANAL (I am not a lawyer) and I am not a nutritionist.

-1

Talking to my own boss, who was very "gun shy" about legal requirements for respecting religious observance etc., and basically said I have to suck it up myself and make up for the gap. HR said basically the same with undertones of 'discrimination'.

Let's take that at face value and say that your management considers the issue to be outside the scope of your disciplinary discretion. We don't need another post next week about some manager who wouldn't follow HR's advice on compliance and employee relations and if he should just be let go. I would have started there too, for what it's worth, but you don't want to take advice from random internet strangers that runs contrary to company decisions.

There's an undertone to your post that says you feel the potential for human error is a significant problem in your processes. In a client-facing role, there will always be opportunity for costly mistakes, but it might be time to go all Six Sigma on your processes and find structural changes that will not just Charlie-proof your day, but hopefully help you feel less overworked and more secure in knowing that the processes will get your clients taken care of without the need for excessive heroics. It's hard to suggest specifics without knowing more about your processes, but there is no shortage of reading material on process improvement.

-1

What is missing from the other answers:

Do you really believe that the political, economic and military leaders of his religion let big decisions go wrong because of fasting rules? I'm quite certain that there are religiously permitted solutions to the performance impact, though they may or may not be well-known.

This is not yours to figure out, but it is something to point out to Charlie. Given your description of the situation his performance decrease is inacceptable and you need to tell him this in no uncertain words. Then tell him that if fasting is the reason, it is his choice to follow that tradition, so it is also his responsibility to manage the impact on his life and those around him. Ask him to find out the solutions that his religion allows, using the example of leaders as an indicator that surely there are such solutions because no religion would have survived if its enemies would just have had to wait until fasting month to invade.

As outlined in other answers, your focus is his performance. If it suffers due to some life choice he made, be it religious or not, that's a performance problem and legally speaking he is not upholding his part of the employment contract.

Under no circumstances should you personally feel obliged to pick up what he drops. That is not your role as manager. Your job is to solve the problem, not to do his job.

-2

The feasting problem is coming mainly from the Muslim religion. They have a month in every year where they can't eat and drink between sunrise and sunset.

A possible option to it:

  1. Give Charlie a calendar with the sunrise and sunsets.
  2. Command Charlie to get in the company a half hour before sunrise.
  3. Wait him with a lot of water and with a little food. Command him to eat & drink before sunrise.
  4. At sunrise, explain: his daily 8 hours is starting now.
  5. Problem solved.
  • OP says this is not islam or ramadan. Perhaps it's a nudge-wink-disclaim, in which case, your answer should do the same. – Harper Feb 3 at 22:48
-2

Change his hours

Make him start 3 hours before sunrise and remind him there is an obligatory 15 minute break at 2 hours into his shift (which there in fact is, by law, many places)... and tell him if he wants to take his hour lunch then, that's up to him.

Do not discuss diet with him except to the extent he asks.

Do surveil what his diet is: if he is living on sugars or "white" grains (non-wholegrains, pasta, baked goods, corn meal derived products like Cheetos, potatos, white rice, etc.) then those are quickly metabolized and behave like sugars, and he is getting a big sugarcrash a couple hours later. That's none of your business, but it can inform your sense of the probability of a forced morning meal fixing this.

My hunch is that geek techie lifestyle (stay up too late, sleep in too late, skip meals, rush to work, and a white diet) is intersecting catastrophically with the fasting. See also caffeine withdrawal.

If this doesn't solve the problem, make him start work at dusk.

-2

My question is: How to address underperformance and mistakes with an employee who's a poor performer anyway but it is at "breaking point" due to religious fasting?

There is always someone better in the market for the same price. Terminate the employee immediately. His behaviour is silly anyway regardless of his performance.

The cause in my opinion was the company needs people who are much more skilled which they couldn't get for the advertised salary

Hire a talent but cheap fresh university graduate. Again, a talent but super cheap intern.

-3

You can't do anything about it.

As it stands, anything you are trying to do can and will be seen as religious intolerance (discrimination). He personally linked his decrease in performance with the fasting, and you seem to be convinced of the cause too. So the chances of convincing a court that the issue is not related to religious discrimination are minuscule.

Therefore you can not treat him as a regular employee who is performing badly. The only way I can imagine you could contest the case is if you contest his choice to fast based on religious texts, if he does something else than what he is "supposed" or "allowed" to do. But we are talking about a theological debate here - your lawyer would have to debate with the equivalent of priests in a set of religious texts and rules which can be distorted arbitrarily.

In a free market environment people would be wary of people who voluntarily incapacitate their own capabilities regularly, and act accordingly. For example not employing them in time critical areas, avoid hiring them at all or pay lower wages. However, as of today, all of that can be considered discrimination as well, even though these are reasonable work related issues businesses have to deal with somehow.

Your HR knows they can't do anything about it, so all they and you can do is damage control. That employee gets his way, and you, your team and your company have to deal with the issues he actively causes. If your company attempts to do anything effective about it and he lawyers up in any shape or form, they are likely to lose the case and harm the company.

However, you can approach him in an interpersonal way and ask him nicely to stop. That's what HR is likely expecting from you. That's all you can do, which you already did. There is nothing else left to do which could not backfire at you or your company.

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    I partly agree but if Charlie is underperforming outside of fasting times they can terminate his contract. Should Charlie try to play the religious card,the company will(must) have proof of it being an unrelated issue.If Charlies' fasting periods are frequent,I wager the company could win, depending on country,if it wasn't disclosed during hiring that Charlie will have reduced work capacities for a high percentage of time.Legal advice is of course vital.Freedom of religion allows differentiated treatment but still has limits,especially if resulting in highly,unexpectedly negative consequences. – DigitalBlade969 Jan 31 at 11:51
  • You cannot discriminate based on religion, but poor performance is perfectly acceptable reason to fire someone. If the cause is personal, that is not an excuse. TBH, it's very unprofessional of Charlie to even bring up the fact that it is a religious activity causing the performance issues in the first place. – Issel Jan 31 at 13:25
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    @Issel - but poor performance is perfectly acceptable reason to fire someone - Well, what do you think will the courts say? A possible outcome is that they will say that firing an employee while he/she is performing his/her religious traditions is religious discrimination. The causal link is already apparent. It may also be logically equated with pregnancy to craft another argument. It's a risk the company is not willing to take - so this widely downvoted answer is the answer the HR of that particular company is essentially giving through their probably pragmatic actions. – Battle Jan 31 at 13:36

protected by Snow Feb 1 at 7:46

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