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Easter holidays are here! Here's what you need to know about religious holidays so you don't end up at the CCMA...

by , 30 March 2015
Dear reader,

It's Easters this week. And if you have employees who are Christians, they're probably getting ready to celebrate.

But what about employees who aren't Christians?

If their religious holidays aren't recognised in South Africa, should you grant them paid leave?

These are questions you have to know the answers to. Because if you don't, your employees could take you to the CCMA for unfair labour practice.

Keep reading below to see everything you need to know about granting leave to an employee when it comes to his religious beliefs and practices...


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Here's what you need to know about religious holidays so you can avoid landing up at the CCMA
 
Say you have a Muslim employee. He asks for time off on a Friday afternoon to attend prayers at the local mosque. This happens to be the busiest time in your shop and letting him go would cause you to lose vital revenue. So you say no.
 
But the employee leaves to attend prayers anyway.
 
You then decide to discipline him for insubordination. And your employee takes you to the Labour Court.
 
These are two the factors the Courts look at:

  1. The obligation on the employee. If the employee feels your requirements, policies or demands jeopardise or threaten his beliefs, he has to let you know! If you don't know, he can't accuse you of being insensitive to his beliefs.
  2. Your requirements must offend an essential element or principle of the employee's faith. In other words, it must be compulsory for the employee to stick to the element of his faith. For example, if your employee is Jewish he can't eat pork. You run a restaurant and say all employees must taste every dish on your menu so they know what it is you serve. You can't force a Jewish employee to taste the dishes that have pork in them.
 
You'll then have to prove to the Court that your discipline was fair and just. These are two facts you'll have to prove in Court:

  1. The rule is an 'inherent' requirement of the job. This means that because of the employee's religious beliefs, he can't do the job at all. Or he can't do the job in line with the requirements. You'll also have to prove the requirements are generally accepted as reasonable in your business sector or the employee's profession.
  2. You took reasonable steps to accommodate the employee's religious beliefs. For example, you let the Muslim employee attend prayer on Friday but made up for that time by not taking lunch on Monday.  

If the employee doesn't tell you about his beliefs, he won't succeed in challenging your decision to discipline, or even dismiss, him for refusing to obey your instructions.
 
Even if the employee raises his beliefs with you, it isn't enough for him to just say: 'I won't obey your instruction because of my beliefs.'
 
You can ask the employee for credible proof that it forms a compulsory part of his belief system. For example, an affidavit from a church minister or rabbi. Of course, you don't have to ask for this proof if the religion is well-know. Such as Muslims attending Friday prayers.
 
The balancing of religious rights in the workplace will always be a sensitive and emotive matter. At least now you have some guidelines when making decisions on how to accommodate these rights.

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