Alcohol in the Workplace – opting out due to religion

The World Cup is now in full swing and it has already produced a number of headlines.

One story that garnered media attention was when the goalkeeper for Egypt’s national football team refused to accept the Man of the Match trophy at the World Cup as a result of his religion. The trophy is sponsored by lager producer, Budweiser, and as a Muslim, the goalkeeper does not drink alcohol. What can we learn from this about alcohol in the workplace?

Refusing to handle alcohol in the workplace

There are times when people will want to opt out of things for religious reasons. For example, an employee may request not to handle alcohol as part of their work duties because it goes against their religion.

In most cases, this can be avoided by ensuring that during the recruitment process, the role’s duties and responsibilities are clearly set out. This can help avoid problems further down the line. However, if the employee does make a request to opt out of handling alcohol when in employment, employers need to take their request seriously.

You always need to take care that you are not discriminating against the employee. For example, an employee is indirectly discriminated against when a company’s policies, procedures or rules which apply to everyone has the effect that people with a certain ‘protected characteristic’, such as age, race or religion, are put at a disadvantage when compared with those who do not share it. So if you have a policy that all staff must handle all food and drink, this applies to all your employees but it may have the effect of disadvantaging employees of a particular religion.

To decline a request from an employee, you should have a real business need and be able to show that it is a proportionate means of achieving this business need. If the task of handling alcohol in the workplace is a significant part to the role or would cause considerable disruption to your business, you may be justified in deciding to refuse the request, but you should always seek advice at the earliest opportunity. Your EW Employment Law Adviser can advise you on your specific set of circumstances.

Refusing alcohol at work events

Now the World Cup is on, you may be having some work-related events to get into the spirit of things. It’s important to remember to have non-alcohol drinks available at any work events because there will be some employees who do not drink alcohol and there may be others who feel very uncomfortable being around alcohol and feel that they cannot go to the party for this reason.

Refusing alcoholic prizes

Finally, if you are giving a prize to an employee, think about what is the most appropriate.  As we have seen with the Egyptian goalkeeper, not everyone will be impressed with the prize and willing to accept it!

If you have a diverse workforce and would like help understanding how to manage specific alcohol in the workplace challenges, contact us. Our Employment Law Advisers can guide you.  

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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