My line report has poor attention to detail at the best of times. From typos to major coding errors to faulty numbers entering draft reports. I have raised these issues with him and we are resolving them by peer reviewing work and giving pointers about his common errors.

Recently my line report has been observing Ramadan. Fasting, not drinking through the warm days, and being sleep deprived has not helped his attention to detail.

His quarterly review is coming up and I need to make him aware that he needs to drastically improve. My concern is that he may see my remarks as being discriminatory.

My question is, how can I address performance issues in a way that makes it clear the root cause is my line report's performance, and not their religious beliefs?

We are based in the UK.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. If you must discuss the religious details and their impact on the workplace please do so in chat and remember to keep it civil. Before commenting, ask yourself if you would be using the comment feature for its intended purpose. Please don't comment to chastise, vent, share your own opinion, or to answer the question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 21:17
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    Are the typos job critical? There's a difference between internal email typos and all-customer-notification emails. I know plenty of people who will review their email for content and not fix their typos because they feel it to be a waste of time since their target understands what they're saying. But if you're missing decimal points on spreadsheets that affect calculations, that's obviously a problem. I'd find it petty if a boss dinged me for typos in internal email threads.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 20:18
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    @corsiKa: we're talking about typos where millions become billions, in papers that go all the way to board level.
    – user27483
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 7:59

8 Answers 8


Stick to the facts.

How do you know it is their religion that is causing the issue? It could very well be some form of issue with their home life, or maybe they lost "the spark" and are not happy with their career. As long as you don't focus on the religion I don't see how it could be related.

Don't comment on when these issues have been happening, just lay out the issues themselves and make sure the employee knows that you want to help him. If the employee's performance was good in the past, you may want to consider a conversation similar to this:

As we have discussed before, we have been noticing issues in a couple of areas that we are concerned about: A B C D E F. This isn't the performance we are used to seeing from you and we want to work with you so you can be performing at the level we know you are capable of. Is there anything you need to talk about, or anything we can do to help?


Now that there is more information, I will expand the answer for OP. In the comments OP mentioned that employee has only been there for 6 months, so there is no performance to compare against, in that situation I would consider the following:

As previously discussed, I have noticed that there some issues that we need to address. We have talked about A B D C E F in the past, and I just want to make sure that you understand where I am coming from. These issues are very important to the company and to be frank this could affect your position if these issues are not addressed. Let's work together to try and resolve these issues. We hired you because we believed that you had the skill set for the job and we still think that you are capable of performing at that level. Is there anything we can do to help you with these issues.

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    As you say your script only really works for a decent-or-better employee whose performance wasn't already in question. In this case OP would probably want to be much firmer and highlight the fact that the employee's performance should have been improving but worsened, impose clear goals for improvement with a deadline and explain the consequences of not meeting said deadline (i.e. dismissal). It's a manager's job to be both understanding and firm. The employee deserves to know that his job is in danger because of this and softening the message does him a disservice.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 21:13
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    @Lilienthal I wrote this before OP commented that the employee had only been there 6 months. Maybe I should edit the answer to contain something more helpful to OP? Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 1:26
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    @Lilienthal this is exactly the kind of attitude I hate at work most, this is to immediately threaten you that if you don't do this or that you're fired or there will be any other very bad consequences. It's the most demotivating kind of motivation - it tells you that you have no support and that you are entirely on your own or else... I like very much the tone of the answer and I'd be glad to at least try to improve or speak about it if I knew there is someone I can turn to if I should need help. It tells you that you are appreciated and not some disposable robot.
    – red-shield
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 4:18
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    @DanK at that point, you would tell the employee that you are supportive of their decision to take part in X religious activity, but that cannot affect your performance at work. You can even state that their personal business is their personal business and you are not concerned with what happens when the employee on their time. All you are concerned about is that employees current performance and how you can work with them to help them perform at the level required to staff this position. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 13:18
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    @DanK - If the employee brings it up, I'd state that my only concern is attention to detail. It's not my business if what they do in their personal life, but by the same token, their personal life does not give them a pass for not performing. I don't care what the reason is, the employee is not performing up to standards. Period. How they manage their life outside of work to help or not help in that regard is not up to me. I've identified the problem, and put processes into place, at work, to help address it, the rest is up to the employee. Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 13:49

I think you should not touch religious ground here at all. One, because it is totally irrelevant, two, because you can get yourself into all kinds of legal difficulties.

Why is it irrelevant? Because all that is of interest to you is the performance of the employee. Why the performance is not adequate is not your problem, that's your employee's problem.

PS. Regarding the comments: If the reason for the bad performance is the company itself, or even the manager, then the manager should indeed try to remove reasons for bad performance. And to the employee: I think the religious requirements for Ramadan are not absolute. If you think that following Ramadan causes you problems (with health, or with your job, or any other way) talk to someone who is competent with the religion and check if there is a solution.

  • to a point. He does need to concerned if the problem is related to something within is control, like maybe the employee is being belittled at work and because of this has low self-esteem and doesn't care about his work. At that point he should address the issue, so why the employee's performance is sub-par should be his "problem", but he only should act if its A) within his control and B) appropriate to do so Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:08
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    @SaggingRufus he should still act if the problem is neither A) nor B), it's just the action should change. It makes no sense that a sub-par performer should be tolerated or kept around forever just because the reason for it is outside of their control or inappropriate to discuss.
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:49
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    @Erik I agree fully, I just didn't articulate my thoughts properly. What I meant by "address the issue" was address the issue itself. He still needs to address the sub-par performance, but he cannot address the religion or anything of that nature. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 12:58
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    One solution might be to take a few days off in the middle of Ramadan to rest and recharge. The employee could ask this time off well ahead, although that probably doesn't help with their immediate situation. Taking a few days off now might, though.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 2:22
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    I wrote basically "if you are a muslim, and following your religion causes you problems, then ask someone who is competent with your religion for advice". And not "competent", but competent.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 19:32

Standard caveat - I'm not a lawyer and therefore can't even begin to advise on any potential legal outcomes (speak to a lawyer or ask on Law.SE if you need any guidance there).

It's a very, very tricky situation - anything that carries even the barest whiff of religious discrimination in the UK is a minefield of potential HR and legal issues.

The way to handle this is (as Joe Strazze points out in his comment) is to avoid any speculation or supposition as to the causes of his poor performance. When you have the review focus purely on the objective results that his work is producing over the the greater time period and what can be done to resolve these issues. Do NOT mention Ramadan or fasting or lack of sleep or anything along those lines. If the employee comes back with his observation of Ramadan as being the reason for the issues you can use any evidence from previous non-Ramadan reviews so make it clear that this is an issue that is nothing to do with Ramadan and has been a problem for a while. In fact wherever possible avoid making any references to decreased productivity during the time period of Ramadan as there is legal precedent that such comments are direct religious discrimination (e.g. Bhatti and another v Pontiac Coils Europe Ltd)

  • There was a newspaper article not long ago discussing this whole matter for the small number of professional practising muslim football players in the UK, with a muslim player being interviewed. This guy most definitely discussed things with his manager, with his Imam, and with a nutritionist. Turns out the Imam told him he can eat when playing away from home (no fasting while travelling), and the nutritionist was helpful.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 15:13

Disclosure: I code for a living and I fast Ramadan. My performance review last week, in Ramadan, was positive. Also, I'm not a lawyer.

Religious circumstances aside, your workers must be all held to the same standard. If someone is demonstrably faltering due to personal reasons, Ramadan or otherwise, then the manager should hold them accountable.

Sometimes allowances can be made, for example a parent has to drive a kid to school late every day. So he can make up for it by working later. But the other workers should not have to shoulder extra weight. In this case, there may be more to your colleague's situation than not-eating-lunch. Have a frank discussion about their performance, and you don't have to bring up Ramadan. If they do, then you can ask what can be done to improve the situation that doesn't require special treatment.

I can't speak for your colleague's particular situation, but in my anecdotal experience, it's not impossible to fast in Ramadan and do one's job.

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    Good answer but be very careful with something like "that doesn't require special treatment". Many countries actually require an employer to provide special treatment to accomodate religious practices, within reason. If the employee brings up a religious fast himself then you're suddenly in a legal minefield.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 13:34
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    Isn't allowing an employee to be late every day "special treatment"? Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 11:26
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    @AndrewLeach - Not if they are able to perform their job duties. If they are able to fulfill their parental duties and their work duties, how important is it for them to clock in at 8:00 vs 8:15? That's very different than letting non-performance slide. Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 15:54
  • Disagree. If you have a time by which to arrive, then you have a time by which to arrive. If someone doesn't have to abide by that time, why not allow everyone not to? Because chaos. Relevant recent question Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 16:02
  • It depends on if they have a strict time by which to arrive. At my office, we don't; we manage our own time. A coworker was in this exact situation when his son was ill, he came in at 9:30-10 every day because he had to take the child to a doctor's appointment before dropping him at daycare. It depends on the workplace. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 21:06

My line report has poor attention to detail at the best of times. From typos to major coding errors to faulty numbers entering draft reports. I have raised these issues with him and we are resolving them by peer reviewing work and giving pointers about his common errors.

So in fact the problems are already being addressed in an ongoing process!

Unless that process is not working you simply have to let it play out.

I'd suggest that you may need to give maximum encouragement and support to make this process work.

Recently my line report has been observing Ramadan. Fasting, not drinking through the warm days, and being sleep deprived has not helped his attention to detail.

These are issues which I don't think you can have any proof of. Lots of people observe Ramadan and they manage fine.

I'm not religious at all and the recent heat wave has certainly affected me. Ramadan need have nothing to do with it.

His quarterly review is coming up and I need to make him aware that he needs to drastically improve.

He may already be.

Has it occurred to you that the stress of an ongoing review and improvement process may itself be the root cause of worry, sleep deprivation and so on. He may simply need more support and a sense that the axe is not going to fall any second.

Perhaps you need to sit down and discuss this with him with a view to encouraging and supporting.

My concern is that he may see my remarks as being discriminatory.

They are. It's that simple.

And, honestly, you need to look at your own attitude to this employee as I sense you are frustrated in some way. Perhaps you are not happy with the speed with which these things are being dealt with, and you may be transferring that frustration unto him, rather than looking at more constructive approaches.

For example, have you thought that the atmosphere created by peer review and people giving pointers to errors may actually be somewhat intimidating for your employee? Another way of describing this might be that he has people watching everything he does and instantly correcting him on every little thing - on paper your plan is fine, but that doesn't mean it will feel fine to the employee at the receiving end. Perhaps this isn't the best approach to dealing with him.

Personally I've always regarded peer review (which is somewhat in vogue these days as a cure-all) as being quite negative. In particular less experienced people will find it undermining to confidence and status, embarrassing. And more experienced people often find it frustrating and irritating, like having a nanny. There are less formal ways to achieve the same result without the negativity.

My question is, how can I address performance issues in a way that makes it clear the root cause is my line report's performance, and not their religious beliefs?

In fact the root cause is unknown, and the performance issue is the symptom, not the cause.

You've no basis for attaching religion to this issue at all. It's frankly disturbing to hear you suggest it is.

I'd strongly advise you to consider if the process is part of the problem and needs to be reconsidered.

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    For the OP's views being discriminatory, you say "They are. It's that simple." It's not that simple though. The issue is not his religion, but quite simply what he does. That is not discriminatory, because the OP is applying the same standards to this employee as everyone else. If the employee is doing something which affects the quality of his work, then he either needs to stop doing it, or he needs to take time off or negotiate flexitime so he can do it without it affecting his work, or he needs to leave the job.
    – Graham
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 14:22
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    "have you thought that the atmosphere created by peer review and people giving pointers to errors may actually be somewhat intimidating for your employee?" - If getting peer review is intimidating that means you are unable to learn from any mistakes you make. That's a problem you need to deal with sooner or later.
    – user57251
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 14:34
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    @Geliormth : That's a ridiculous statement. If you can't learn one particular way you can't learn ever any way ? Peer review is, IMO, a problem created by people which does not solve any problem. In science it is used for critical "bend until it breaks" evaluation of concepts, which is hardly an appropriate method to deal with people. Work should not be about destruction testing staff. I have never seen any practical benefit from peer review. It only benefits managers who want to avoid taking responsibility for developing their staff and handling them like humans. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 19:14
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    I am sorry, but since when did observing Ramadan, include effecting your physical health by not keeping hydrated in the middle of the summer?
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 20:58
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    "You've no basis for attaching religion to this issue at all. It's frankly disturbing to hear you suggest it is." +1, which I could vote this up more than once. @CodeMonkey, your analogy to weed smoking is disingenuous as there are no religions that require that. The bigger issue is rules that "apply to everybody" that are inherently discriminative. "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread."
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 1:14

You're not going to change his religion. It's part of the package.

Even if his religion is causing some of these issues (and I did Ramadan once, and it probably is, to be brutally honest), it is just part of who he is, so it isn't something to mess with. I know the years I had heavy music duties before Easter would interfere with my work efficiency the week before (due to all the practices and performances) and after (because I was, frankly, exhausted). I was also exhausted the week after a big chess tournament, and that had nothing to do with religion. It is no different than the weeks I'm recovering from being sick. It was just part of the package of who I am, and I eventually learned to deal with it, and so did my managers.

Dealing with the package of who he is becomes just part of the typical problem of dealing with employees who are not up to snuff. Start gathering evidence AFTER Ramadan (so there is no excuse), and if he isn't working out, approach it that way. And if you keep him around, realize that Ramadan is just part of the package and plan for it next year.

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    "I need to make him aware that he needs to drastically improve." sounds like that it is not unlikely that he may not be around next year. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:14
  • "different then the weeks" → "different than the weeks"* (e.g. ref. wikihow.com/Use-Than-and-Then). Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 13:56

In my country, we would have a friendly chat with your employee and would ask him if he is ok, if something is troubling him.

I would try to understand if this is a phase, or if it boils down to the ingrained culture of the individual.


I have noticed that you are using somewhat judgmental language, "poor attention to detail," "errors," "faulty reports", and his religion "has not helped his attention to detail."

If you wish to avoid being viewed as discriminatory, and you wish to raise the question of religion (which may be its own HR minefield and you may not want to), you will need to avoid this sort of judgmental language in that context. Discrimination is all about judging someone's differences as wrong: so if you're judging them then you're going to be discriminating; if you're not judging them then you're not.

Per comments and downvotes, a discussion about how to constructively evaluate someone without judging them is coming across as heavy-handed on my part, and so there are other resources available for that on the web: whether understanding associated cognitive distortions you might create in employees, striving for transformational leadership, or knowing the costs of positional bargaining in negotiation, or framing yourself as a servant leader. I've heard similar things from the nonviolent-communication folks although I don't know their stuff nearly so well. But to summarize from the cognitive-behavioral side, the most important thing, I think, is to stop saying that things "just are" right or wrong, which involves labeling others out-of-context.

So this doesn't mean that you shouldn't label, but that you should try to be mindful of always attaching this context. His actions are not "bad", but rather "bad for me, because I want X, Y, Z, and I don't get any of those things from them."

Your employee accidentally left some bugs in the software without reviewing it first: and that sucks for you because they either got caught in review and you had to spend time managing those post-review steps, or else they didn't get caught in review and then the client or testing department sent an angry report about how the latest build doesn't work, and you had to spend time writing emails and deal with the egg-on-your-shirt shame of the encounter.

So it's not that the act of leaving these bugs in the commit was intrinsically wrong; we all make mistakes -- it just happened to have these negative impacts on you and you want to start a constructive discussion about how both of your desires can be fulfilled simultaneously, "here's what I need, please share what you need, then let's work together to figure out how we can both get what we need out of this professional relationship."

If you can connect to what your employee's needs and intrinsic motivations are, and understand him more as a person, then these religious needs are seen to be a part of that, and the whole tone of the discussion shifts. Once you have stopped judging their performance as 'bad' and imposing your authority upon the world, and shifted to understanding what's stressing them out and supporting and connecting with them, these religious matters can fade entirely out of the discussion.

So in your old mindset, the religious fasting was making them "worse" at their job. But from a different mindset, it has become another need which they have -- we all have spiritual needs of some form or another -- which you are mindful of. The discussion can be much more like,

"Hey, I don't know how this works with Ramadan, but I noticed you're upset that you're not getting enough sleep and talking about how you're lacking the energy to last the full day... do you need any help on the professional side to support those religious commitments?" "What do you mean?" "Well, I mean, I could split up one of your vacation days per week so that you get an extra hour of lunch break every day to recover your energy, or if you need to leave early for your religious services or something--those sorts of professional expectations can be shuffled a bit if it makes things easier." "No, that's all right, but thanks for asking."

If you come at it from a suitable perspective, you're not going to offend anyone's religion, because you're actually supporting it. Where you go wrong is if you have this judgmental mindset, "your work right now sucks, and your religion is making your work suck more", and then suddenly you're in HR trouble because it is coming across as discriminatory, because that implication of "therefore your religion sucks" is very hard to avoid and may also be secretly what is in the back of your head.

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    This is a huge rant about how to be a good (in your opinion) manager, and really barely addresses the actual question at all.
    – David K
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 15:55
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    If you think you can cut down on the length and clarify your answer, then go for it, though it may still end up being deleted. As it is currently written I am having difficulty figuring out how most of what you said relates at all to the question being asked.
    – David K
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 16:02
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    I don't understand this answer. Discrimination and judgment based on performance is not only completely acceptable, it's necessary. Leaving bugs in code (or whatever other sloppy errors are being made) are intrinsically bad. There are effective and ineffective ways to deal with those problems, and some amount of mistakes is unavoidable, but they are problems.
    – Kat
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 22:04
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    "you will need to avoid this sort of judgmental language" when directly speaking about THEM. Like here at SE, you can be as judgemental as you want about posts (their work), but not about them. You cannot insult a user, but you can call their work crap.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 22:42
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    The idea of offering an extra long lunch break during Ramadan made me chuckle. Commented Jun 24, 2017 at 9:52

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