Time off for Religious Festivals

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Many schools may be aware that there are a number of religious festivals that take place at this time of year (or that are due to take place shortly) including Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Eid and Navatri.

We often receive queries from senior staff and managers on how to deal with requests, where staff have asked for time off during term time to attend such festivals. Therefore, to try to assist line managers to deal with these requests we have set out some general guidance below for senior staff:

1. Have a clear process

The school should ensure that there is a clear process for staff to follow to request any such time off (not only for religious festivals) – i.e. must a form be completed? Are staff required to attend a meeting to discuss requests? How much notice is required to be given by the employee? Line managers should then ensure that the process is correctly followed in relation to all requests for such time off from staff.

2. Consider your policy

Many school policies (additional paid/unpaid leave for example) will set out details of whether such leave should be granted and if it is, whether it should be paid or unpaid and/or how many paid days of leave staff are permitted to take in any one academic year. All managers/senior leaders should refer to this policy for guidance in the first instance and consider and review the employee’s previous attendance records if the policy provides for a set number of days of paid leave, to ensure that these days have not been exceeded.

If the School is not minded to grant any such requests for time off (or annual leave in the case of all year round employees) the School must be able to objectively justify this decision.

3. Be consistent

When referring to the above policies, many policies will provide for leave and details of any payment for this leave at the discretion of the Headteacher or School. In this instance the School must carefully consider any previous very similar (or identical) requests that have been granted in the past and ensure that the requests are treated consistently - this will help to avoid any complaints from staff (and avoid potential discrimination claims).

4. Consider whether the time (if granted) will be paid or unpaid

If the school is willing to grant the leave and the School’s policy permits flexibility the School should consider whether such requests will be paid or unpaid. This may be influenced by the number of requests received, what is happening in school on the date requested, whether cover will be required for the employee or whether the employee will be making up the working time later on in the academic year.

As noted above, if the leave cannot be granted for any particular reason then the school can refuse such a request. However, the school must be able to objectively justify the refusal of the request - for example, if there is an important exam/controlled assessment taking place on the date requested or parents’ evening is taking place.

4. Respond within a reasonable time frame

Once a decision as to whether or not to grant the leave and whether this leave will or will not be paid has been made, this should be communicated to the employee in line with the school’s policy as soon as is possible.

If the leave cannot be granted for any particular reason, we would suggest, even if it is not part of the policy, that a member of senior staff or the employee’s line manager meets with the employee to explain the reason for the decision. Hopefully, this will ensure that the reason for the decision is clear and ensure good working relations moving forward.

The above guidance is generalised. If there are any particular requests or matters that you would like to discuss specifically and in further detail, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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