Syria Army Lays Down Its Arms Over Eid Al-Adha

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Over the last 24 hours we've been hearing reports that the Syrian army will enter into a four-day ceasefire to observe the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. While the ceasefire has come into effect, the army warned that it will respond to rebel attacks. It's not an entirely risk-free situation, but aid agencies are taking the opportunity to try and provide emergency supplies to the many families in need of help.

Eid al-Adha is the Festival of Sacrifice. It celebrates the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, in obedience to a command from God. Fortunately, Abraham wasn't called upon to carry through this command and God provided a ram caught in a ticket which provided a more suitable subject for sacrifice. I've always struggled with the reasonableness of this request (remember I am a lawyer by training!). Possibly the God of Love was having a bit of an off-day when he laid this terrible requirement upon Abraham.

Eid al-Adha is also the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj).

Eid al-Adha should not be confused with Eid al-Fitr (also known as Id al-Fitr or Eid ul-Fitr) which marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan and is the start of a feast that lasts up to three days in some countries. The celebration seeks to encourage the forgiving of old wrongs and the giving of money to the poor. Cards and gifts are exchanged and presents are given to children.

Protection at work on the grounds of religion and religious belief was first introduced under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, now replaced by The Equality Act 2010. Employees should not suffer less favourable treatment for a reason connected with the religion unless it can be objectively justified. One of the key issues for employers is whether or not an employee has the right to work certain hours (or not) or to take time off for religious festivals or observances. There is no express right to do so, but if the employer can make reasonable accommodation, it should do so.

Taking an empathetic approach to employees' religious needs usually makes good business sense. Each case will turn on its own facts. Weekend working is often unpopular and that can cause difficulties for members of certain religions who do not work then. In one case a cruise company had a requirement that staff work some Saturdays. The court agreed that the employee, a Seventh-day Adventist, was disadvantaged by the requirement, but it was justifiable. Saturday working is essential to the tourism industry so was justified.

A Muslim security guard asked permission to attend a mosque for prayer during working hours. This was refused because it would have undermined his employer's ability to provide proper security services. The court found that this did not constitute religious discrimination, finding that "the requirement for the claimant to remain on site was a proportionate means of achieving the respondent's legitimate aim of the operational needs which it had in complying with its contract".

It is for the tribunal to decide what constitutes less favourable treatment. The Employment statutory code of practice says that, a €comparison must be made with how they have treated other workers or would have treated them in similar circumstances€¦€¦ If the employer's treatment of the worker puts the worker at a clear disadvantage compared with other workers, then it is more likely that the treatment will be less favourable: for example, where a job applicant is refused a job."

In the case of a Muslim employee, Mohammed Khan, a court found that he had been unfairly dismissed by NIC Hygiene Ltd and suffered unlawful discrimination after he used holiday time and unpaid leave to complete his hajj. He was absent from work for six weeks. Mr Khan said that he had asked for the leave twice and, having been told by his manager that if he heard nothing back it was probably all right, believed it had been approved. However, on his return to work he was dismissed for unauthorised absence and this was treated as gross misconduct. Mr Khan was awarded 10,000 compensation.

We can but hope that during this year's Festival of Sacrifice, the bloodshed in Syria stops and allows the authorities to make greater efforts to negotiate a more permanent and peaceful outcome.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in the practical application of employment law as well as providing employment law training and HR services. For more information, visit our website at http://www.russellhrconsulting.co.uk

Russell HR Consulting offers HR support services to businesses nationwide, including Buckinghamshire (covering Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Banbury, Northampton, Towcester and surrounding areas), Nottinghamshire (covering Chesterfield, Mansfield, Nottingham, Sheffield, Worksop and surrounding areas) and Hampshire (covering Aldershot, Basingstoke, Reading, Farnborough, Fareham, Portsmouth, Southampton and surrounding areas).
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