For Muslims, Thursday 23 March marked the beginning of the holiest month of the Islamic year – Ramadan.
It is key for employers to understand what Ramadan is and what it might involve for any Muslim employees who choose to observe fasts during Ramadan, and have not elected to take time off work, as well as consider any workplace measures in place/needed to support any Muslim employees during this time. Employers should be proactive in addressing any challenges and ensuring the workplace is inclusive, understanding, and tolerant.
Tolerance in the workplace, raising awareness of other cultures and understanding the challenges that face employees of any particular culture, is perhaps more paramount now given employees have returned to the office.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims around the globe will refrain from eating or drinking (so, fast) from sunrise to sunset, as well as spending time with family and in prayer. For many Muslims, they will commit to prayer during Ramadan more so than other calendar months.
The purpose of Ramadan, and abstinence from food and drink between sunrise and sunset, is to allow Muslims to focus on prayer and their spiritual connection with God (Allah) as well as to understand the pain and suffering of millions around the world who live their lives in poverty and famine.
Ramadan tends to last for a lunar month and, in the UK, would see those observing abstaining from food or drink for at least 15 hours a day throughout daylight/working hours. Muslims may make charitable donations (also called Zakat donations) and attend congregational prayer at the mosque throughout the month. Ramadan closes with Eid-al-Fitr, a religious celebration to mark the end of the month.
What can employers do to support Muslims during Ramadan in the workplace
We have suggested some potential measures below:
Try to accommodate flexible working/hours, where possible
Employers should understand that employees’ sleep patterns will be disturbed. They will be waking up early in the morning to eat/drink/pray and staying up fairly late to pray (particularly, in the final ten days of the month).
Employers should therefore be open to/encourage employees to consider temporary working arrangements which may best support them during Ramadan. This could include a change in working hours, i.e., earlier start/finish times, a change in proposed meeting times (to allow observing employees to ‘meet’ at a time in the day they may feel more productive), allowing observing employees to take regular breaks spread across the day if they so wish, and ensuing that workplace social activities are planned in a way that accommodates employees observing Ramadan (so they are not ‘left out’, in other words).
Employees observing Ramadan may be keen to work from home on days they are fasting and/or on Friday (which is a holy day in Islam), so employers should be amenable to allowing them to do so. Employers should also be mindful of any ensuing burden on other staff, in agreeing any informal flexible working arrangements and should look to maintain a balance. Failing to fairly consider a flexible working request (even if informal) and/or refusing such a request without a good business reason may leave the floor open for employees to argue discrimination because of their religion or belief, but burdening other staff as a result could also amount to discrimination.
Communicate, show understanding/tolerance, and allow the employee to map out support if needed
It may help for employers to be ‘proactive’ in reaching out to employees who are observing Ramadan, explain that they understand they may need support whilst working during the month, and offer flexibility in terms of how to offer that support.
One of the biggest challenges faced by Muslim employees observing Ramadan will be lessened productivity and concentration. They may, gradually and over the course of the month, begin suffering from symptoms of fatigue as they adjust to fasting. This is likely to have an impact on their ability to focus and could, in turn, affect their productivity levels. The impact on each employee tends to be personal. There may be Muslim employees who are pregnant or menstruating and may not therefore want to be required to discuss their personal approach to fasting and/or whether they are fasting. Employers should be mindful of this and the fact that each employee’s concerns/the support needed by each employee may vary.
Employers should therefore try to be respectful when inviting employees to discuss any support they may need in the month. It may help for employers to suggest a few potential ways the business can support its employees in the correspondence, to make employees feel more comfortable if making a request.
Team members and colleagues should also be made aware of Ramadan and resource sharing may help avoid awkward questions being made to observing employees in the workplace. They could be provided training on how to support colleagues during Ramadan and/or be advised to avoid holding social events during the month – this may help fasting employees feel accepted and respected.
Consider annual leave requests fairly – even if last minute!
There may be a flurry of annual leave requests towards the end of Ramadan, given the festival of Eid-al-Fitr marks the end of the month. Such requests may be made at short notice as the date on which Eid-al-Fitr falls and is observed depends on the sighting of the moon.
There is no legal onus on employers to give employees time off for religious reasons/celebrations, though a failure to fairly consider an annual leave request could amount to discrimination.
Employers should understand this and try to ensure that annual leave requests are dealt with fairly and in line with its own policies and procedures. Any refusals to grant annual leave should have reasonable and fair justifications and employers should consider the potential impact on other employees as a result of granting such leave (particularly, where there is a predominantly Muslim workforce).
Offer breaks/space for prayer
Many employees will pray up to five times a day throughout Ramadan, and some of the prayer times will fall within working hours.
Employers should therefore have an awareness of when the prayer times may fall and consider whether its existing spaces or facilities can be used as a secure prayer space for employees if needed, and if those employees intend to pray.
Introduce a policy or guidance on Ramadan
In line with our above suggestion on workplace training, employers could look to introduce a clear policy on Ramadan setting out the expected employee standards and the forms of support observing employees can expect to receive. Employers could consider introducing a general policy covering all religious traditions and festivals, given the risk of not considering or acknowledging any requests made by an employee of another religion. It is advisable for employers to take a fair and balanced approach towards any new policy or procedure it may look to introduce.
Having a process or policy in place may help employees feel supported, understood, and valued.
If you require further information about the contents of this article and/or would like assistance or advice with any of the suggested measures above, do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team at: firstname.lastname@example.org.