Supporting employees during Ramadan
Written on 12 February 2024
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, and community. It commemorates the month during which the Quran, the holy book of Islam, is believed to have been revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
This year, Ramadan is expected to begin in the evening on Sunday, 10 March 2024 and will last for approximately 30 days, culminating in the celebration of Eid Ul-Fitr on Tuesday, 9 April 2024. During this period, Muslims will abstain from food, drink and smoking from sunrise to sunset as means of spiritual purification and self-discipline. They will also engage in prayer, reflection and giving to charity.
Many Muslims will continue to have and fulfil work commitments during Ramadan. This can generally be seamlessly accomplished at work as, in most cases, employees will plan effectively, communicate openly with colleagues and supervisors, and make adjustments to their daily routines in order to minimise disruption and maintain a smooth workflow.
While employers are unlikely to encounter significant issues, it’s essential to be aware of legal considerations when managing employees observing Ramadan and to proactively consider ways to provide support. In this article, we spotlight several key considerations that employers and managers should bear in mind throughout this period.
First, the basic legal principle...
It is against the law to treat an employee less favourably because of their religion or belief. This means that employers cannot, for example, dismiss someone, refuse to promote them or deny them training because of their religion.
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1. Flexible working
Working from home is now the norm for many organisations. However, if it isn’t, you should think about whether it is viable to implement temporary flexible working arrangements for Muslim employees during Ramadan. This may involve being flexible about working hours, rest times and duties. For example, you may allow employees to start their working day later, work through lunch or leave work earlier.
For Muslims, visiting the Mosque and praying in congregation is a key component of Ramadan. Alongside this, you may wish to consider whether it is possible to allow short breaks for prayers or provide a private space for employees to pray in.
Employers who have a rule on no praying in the workplace will need to be careful about the potential for an indirect discrimination. Having a blanket position such as this may not adversely impact a Roman Catholic, who wouldn’t normally be expected to pray at set times during the day, but it would adversely impact Muslims, as they are required to pray five times a day.
3. Health and safety
Fasting can have an impact on employees’ concentration and judgement. As such, employers should proactively consider whether this could impact the health and safety of the employee and those around them. This scrutiny becomes crucial, particularly when employees are engaged in tasks involving heavy machinery or assume roles that inherently carry a degree of danger.
Employers should undertake a comprehensive risk assessment to identify and address any potential hazards associated with altered concentration levels during fasting periods. By implementing targeted safety measures and fostering open communication, employers can continue to ensure a secure working environment for all employees.
Fasting can also affect employees’ performance, productivity and morale. Keep in mind that if you performance manage an employee for this, and if their performance is not at the standard it usually is due to, for example, the fatigue of fasting, employers risk leaving themselves open to claims of unlawful discrimination.
Employers should attempt to make everyone in the workplace aware of Ramadan – putting a notice in the common room or circulating an email should suffice. It’s important in any workplace that employees are sensitive to people’s religious and personal beliefs and show understanding and tolerance.
Making jokes or comments to an employee because their productivity is lower than normal due to fasting could lead to claims of harassment on the ground of religious belief.
Fasting during Ramadan may result in fluctuating energy levels. With this in mind, consider supporting employees by strategically scheduling meetings and appraisals in the morning or at the start of their shift. If you are unsure what time would be best, engage with employees so that you can hopefully agree a time that accommodates their fasting obligations and works for everyone.
This proactive approach fosters a supportive and understanding work environment, acknowledging the diverse needs of the team.
7. Annual leave requests
You may notice that you receive a higher number of annual leave requests during this time, especially around the time of Eid, when Muslims may celebrate by attending special prayers, sharing festive meals with family and friends, giving to charity, and exchanging gifts as a joyful conclusion to the month-long Ramadan fasting period.
There is no legal automatic entitlement to time off during Ramadan – employees will need to submit their requests in accordance with your company’s annual leave policy. Of course, you may not be able to grant all requests, but you should try to be as reasonable, fair and accommodating as possible. If you refuse a holiday, you should have clear business reasons to justify the negative response.
With many organisations approaching a new leave year, it’s worth reminding employees that they should book holidays early to avoid disappointment. Where possible, encourage employees to coordinate with their colleagues to work out any disputes over leave.
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Navigating a challenging workforce situation during Ramadan? Unsure where you stand legally? Our team of Employment Law specialists is ready to assist you in effectively supporting your staff while ensuring seamless business continuity so that you can swiftly resolve issues and sidestep the risk of discrimination claims.
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