Employers, in the U.S., are obligated to provide various religious accommodations to their employees, e.g. reasonable prayer breaks etc. But some religious pracices require types of abstinence, such as deprivation from eating and drinking all day, that take a toll on the person's executive functioning, attention, and overall cognition.

If, as a result of such a religious observance, an employee's work performance deteriorates, to which degree, if any, is the employer required to tolerate it, i.e. absorb business loss to be compliant with accommodation?

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    @GeorgeM While that's certainly possible, it's not the only possibility. Lots of religions involve fasting for different periods (though certainly to different degrees and with differing frequency).
    – Upper_Case
    May 8 '19 at 17:21

This is a question better suited for a lawyer or at very list your HR department. Different states may have different laws as to how you may respond to such a thing.

Purely from my own experiences the office I worked out where we had a gentleman who observed Ramadan, when his productivity would tank, we would be supportive, and patient with him. We would help him with what ever he needed to be successful, or simply do some tasks to lighten his workload.

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    In the last company I worked at, Ramadan was one of the most productive months because we avoided the post-lunch fatigue. It's definitely important to measure before you take action. May 8 '19 at 16:58
  • @SimonRichter I completely agree about being sure of your actions before you take them. The gentleman i spoke of, only started to struggle towards the end of Ramadan. Once Ramadan was over, a few days later he would be right back on top of stuff.
    – jesse
    May 8 '19 at 17:09
  • @jesse how would you deal with it, if for instance the job was: "Driver of a schoolbus"?
    – Pieter B
    May 10 '19 at 11:20

Fasting doesn't impact performance once you get used to it. I fast for around 20 hours ever single day and I'm fine. For men, give them about 3 days to a week to adjust. For women it should take about 2 days to a week. These are typically the time frames people expect to stop feeling hungry when drinking nothing but water. Since religious fasting holidays typically permit eating at some point or in some measure, most people won't actually be lacking any nutrition so there won't be malnourishment going on. At most there should be some mild hunger.

Keep in mind, that as an employer you're actually totally powerless when it comes to ensuring people eat. If their health isn't negatively impacted by fasting - it probably won't be - you actually can't do anything about it at all.

That being said, you can do something about a dip in performance. I'd treat this like that. When you find out the reason is a fasting based religious holiday, ask if they can drink water. If they can, suggest they drink that. For the rest of it, just explain that their performance needs to be about what it normally is. Explain that fasting is not an excuse for performing at less than 80% for more than a week. This is literally all you can do aside from forcing them to take lunch breaks anyway. Do note that no one actually has to eat on their lunch breaks.

  • These are typically the time frames people expect to stop feeling hungry when drinking nothing but water. If you're getting this information from a particular source, it would be useful to cite it. However, I would expect this vary based on the person's state of health, including what medications they're on.
    – BSMP
    May 8 '19 at 20:31
  • @BSMP This is just what I know from listening to other people talking about fasting. It's generally what's agreed on. Generally it should only take 3 days for men and 2 days for women, but it can take longer.
    – user53651
    May 9 '19 at 13:57

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