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I have recently come upon a problem as an employer.

I have a software company, and for the most part we have 1,2 big projects going at a time, and then smaller side projects. Sometimes deadlines are really pushing and we need everyone to give their best. From the current time planning, it is clear that one of the big projects will come into the finish phase around May this year. Last year around this time I ran into problems with some employees, with Islam being their religious affiliation. They simply said that they are fasting and cannot work to their fullest. Their performance dropped noticeably, and I had to push more work on other employees, which did not seem fair, but at the time I did not know any better.

I am trying to treat everyone equal and yet the best possible, because from my experience a happy employee is a productive employee, but there have been some bumps on the road. First, some employees have complained that Muslim employees get 3 times a day off for 5 minutes for praying, and non muslims have requested a 15 minute break as well(Which I find petty), however, since the praying time does not fall within the regular breaks, I do not know how to handle this request. On one hand, they are spending this time to pray, but on the other hand, it is time their colleagues are working. What do I do about this? Do I say that prayers have to match lunch breaks, or do I give extra 15 to everyone?

Furthermore, some senior developers have expressed their concerns regarding the project mentioned above, since last year it got hectic, and we are now aware of incoming problems during fasting. As I see it, employees that fast are not reliable during this period, and I was thinking of reassigning them to the smaller projects and pulling in other workers during the fasting time. However, can this be seen as discriminatory? I think not, but maybe I am wrong? As I see it, I provide them with a job and projects, but leaving them on the main team would jeopardize the project, company, and ultimately the jobs of all employees. And it is true that during fasting they cannot perform at the level of others.

So these are my main 2 questions, but I am going to rant a bit now:

There are so many religions today, and we as employers are not allowed to discriminate against someone by not hiring them based on their religion, which is understandable. But what if someone comes with ridiculous requests based on their religion (Just speculating)? For example, "My religion requires me to take a nap for 30 minutes at 15:00 to please the God". It is a silly example, but could I refuse the position to this fictional man, or offer him lower,proportional salary?

closed as too broad by gnat, gazzz0x2z, Daniel, Joe Strazzere, David K Feb 26 at 13:12

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Do they have a flexible schedule or do they have to work from 9 till 18? Anyway, 5 minutes off doesn't look like a big issue, some people spend more time fetching coffee or using the toilet. – lawful_neutral Feb 26 at 8:02
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    Can you add a location? What you can actually do might vary by jurisdiction. – Erik Feb 26 at 8:11
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    @Atizs Oh my, this is going on in the Netherlands? That's worrying. employees have complained that muslim employees get 3 times a day off for 5 minutes for praying, and have requested a 15 minute break as well(Which I find petty) You got so lost in your quest to be inclusive and promoting equality, you are now discriminating against non muslims. – Peter Paff Feb 26 at 10:08
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    @Atizs and you find that petty, but you do allow muslim employees to have 15 minutes. This is discriminating towards non muslims. Equality means you ignore race and religion, not give presents to people of a certain race or religion. – Peter Paff Feb 26 at 10:12
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    I don't understand : people get 2x15 minute breaks. Why not let the muslim employees break up one fifteen minute break in 3 and use it for their prayers. That way everyone still gets the same amount of break time. Also what kind of roles are these ? Jobs like developers, analysts,... have jobs where flexibility in work hours and letting your employees manage them as they see fit shouldn't be an issue. Is there a reason why their work hours are highly regulated and monitored like this ? – MlleMei Feb 26 at 10:54
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3 times a day off for 5 minutes

That is the least of your problems. If you have smokers in the company, make a statistic about their breaks - from my experience, each break of each smoker is longer than that.

Also, make a "statistic" about how much time you need every day to excrete all the coffee and sodas - I think it beats the 15 min for praying.

Also, taking a few small breaks throughout a day actually helps productivity. There are countless resources on this subject, I will not go into the details.


On the other hand, "objective" measurement of productivity is another thing. If they do not work enough / with good quality / etc... then you need to re-think the strategy.

And this means finding true fairness, not true equality. You cannot judge a fish's performance by its speed climbing a tree.

What you can do:

  • give bonuses for high quality work;
  • give bonuses for additional / overtime work;
  • make proper project schedules, according to the realities of life, including fasting etc.;
  • reduce the work time of the people with low performance during the low performance time, reducing payment accordingly.

NOTE: nothing what I wrote is related to any religion. It is related to performance and delivery of results. Christians go through fasting periods also (Easter, Christmas...) - even if not followed as strictly. Other religions have other habits.

In order to implement these techniques, you need to "design" measurable tasks - measurable in terms of quality, cost, duration.


could I refuse the position to this fictional man, or offer him lower, proportional salary?

Just as I said, yes! you can lower the salary of anyone. Mandatory condition: tasks are measurable, and payment is done according to the measurements. In that way, you cannot be accused of discrimination or bad practices - it is strictly about work.

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    This is highly industry/country dependent, you can't just reduce people's work or pay in many places. – Erik Feb 26 at 8:22
  • Yes, you are true. But one can establish a lower base and use a bonus system. You get the same result without breaking the law. One does not reduce, one increases ;) – virolino Feb 26 at 8:25
  • also, negotiation of benefits after evaluation can be influenced by the low performance. There will be no decrease, but smaller (or no) increase. – virolino Feb 26 at 8:26
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    +1, especially in how you refer to measurements of productivity and fairness that is not specific to religious beliefs. I have a disability and have employed and worked with others with disabilities and the same sorts of things apply here (the reasonable adjustments needed to allow everyone to be productive does not necessarily result in "equality", but does feel fair). – DoctorPenguin Feb 26 at 9:16
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    @gazzz0x2z: that would really kill your computer mouse. And your finger :) – virolino Feb 26 at 12:57
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You judge employees by what they achieve, religion doesn’t come into it.

If someone’s performance drops because they are doing something for religious reasons, then their performance drops. That’s it. The person should ask their peers what they can do to avoid a performance drop. There are some professional Muslim football players in the U.K., and they handle this.

If my performance drops because I decided to drink too much, you should do the same: Judge my performance.

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It's often not about just being fair, but also being perceived to be fair. I'm non-religious and I schedule my own breaks, as long as the work is done at the end of the day, but I certainly sympathise with your non-religious employees feeling peeved at this extra privilege. Because make no mistake, if breaks are rationed, it is a privilege.

If it makes sense with your workload, you can either get rid of the set break times, and let your employees schedule that between themselves. If, for example, you need at least 2 people behind the counter at all times, it should be easy for them to self-coordinate. Then match everyone's break time to what the religious employees are currently getting, and that's that problem addressed.

The issue of performance can also be addressed because it's easy to plan for, now that you know about it. You said you work with projects, so you can plan those resources at 50% capacity. Going into fine discussion of equality doesn't help much here, but you can, as an administrator, address the performance issue with a stroke of a pen.

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You need to speak with an employment lawyer and act according to their advice.

Regarding project assignments, you can assign whomever you want to whichever project without any explanation.

If asked, stating religous customs as the reason would potentially invite trouble and I'm sure there are many reasons to assign someone a specific task...not that you'd be required to justify your decision.

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I'm going to break this down into several parts.

Firstly, it is your choice on what you want to do about your employee's prayer times. As a manager that is your decision to decide if you want to lower productivity and output by giving everyone else a break or you can make other employees unhappy due to not being able to prayer. From personal experience people who prayer can pray at any time during the day however cutting their regular breaks could be problematic.

I'll merge this with your last point. Yes you can reject 'religious breaks' as long as you are still treating the employee equally to the other employees. You can see more about religious rights in the workplace here

Secondly, If during fasting everybody's reaction is different. Some people can perform just as well and some do not. It all depends on the bodies reaction to not eating for specific amounts of time. Some people are okay with this and it does not seem to affect them. If you do not know exactly how your employees may perform I would refrain from removing them from a project unless you personally see significant drop in performance e.g. increased errors, less productivity, signs of tiredness.

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