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
- that's just the nature of the work we do and
- 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.