Myth busting: Can you insist that an employee works on a holy or rest day?

Some employees would not have enough holiday days to take one day off every week to observe their faith

This will, to some extent depend upon whether the individual is employed to work on specific days of the week and one of these days corresponds with a regular holy day. For example, some Christians believe that Sundays should be a day of rest and religious Jews observe the Sabbath which begins at nightfall on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday.

Clearly an employee who works Wednesday – Sunday would not have enough holiday days to be able to take one day off every week to observe their faith.

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  • An employer who ran a care home for children which was open every day of the year successfully argued that a Christian employee had to work on a Sunday. This was because there had to be a set mix of genders and qualifications amongst the staff at any time and excluding her from the rota on a Sunday made this very difficult to achieve.
  • In another case an employer moved a Christian employee to a new role which included Sunday working. Here the employer argued that it was ‘too much trouble’ to work out a solution which did not involve working on Sundays, and this was found to be indirect discrimination.

The message from these cases is that employers can put in place a requirement that employees work on specific days (even if they are considered to be holy) but if you do this, you must be able to justify this requirement and evidence that you have sought to try and achieve a workable non-discriminatory solution.


Retail and betting shop workers have the right to opt out from working on a Sunday (but not any other day of the week) unless they are only required to work on a Sunday.

  • If an employee, or a job applicant, states that they do not want to work on a particular day of the week for religious reasons, treat the application sympathetically. Start by considering whether it would be possible to achieve this by excluding them from the rota on this day. You will be expected to demonstrate that you have considered alternatives and larger employers will, generally, be expected to be able to accommodate requests more easily than organisations with a smaller workforce. If it is impossible, or very difficult to do and you have a genuine business reason for insisting that the employee works on a particular day (and can evidence that), you should be able to successfully defend any discrimination claim.
  • However, if you do not have a strong reason and do not try to find a solution, you are likely to struggle to defend turning the request down and if you do, are likely to face a successful discrimination claim.

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