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Ramadan in the Workplace: How to Support Your Employees

Ramadan
Tuesday, 7 May 2019
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and the holiest month of the year in which Muslims across the world commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.

From 5th May until 4th June 2019, Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset (making them approximately 16 hours this year), meaning they will not eat food, drink liquids or smoke and engage in increased acts of prayer and charity.

As a result, a Muslim’s usual daily routine changes due to disrupted sleeping and meal times. Some Muslims may be exempt from fasting (for example if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or due to health reasons) but will still take part in the other religious practices of Ramadan.

So, what is HR best practice for Ramadan at work and how can employers support their Muslim employees during this period?

The Law

First and foremost, you should bear in mind it is against the law to treat an employee less favourably because of their religion or belief. Employers should therefore be aware of their obligations towards employees who are observing Ramadan.

Employers should ensure that employees are not penalised for any decrease in performance whilst fasting, as this could be deemed as unlawful discrimination.

Flexible Working

Perhaps the most frequent request you will receive from your team members is seeking some degree of flexibility in their working hours. You should think about whether it is viable to implement temporary flexible working arrangements during Ramadan.

This could involve being flexible about working hours, rest times and duties. For example, you may allow them to start their working day later, allow them to work through lunch, let them leave work earlier or work from home.

Rest and Pray Breaks

While some Muslim employees may choose to continue with their usual routine at work, some employees may request more frequent breaks either to rest or pray.

Employers are only obliged to give an employee a 20-minute break if they work for more than six hours but should consider accommodating for such requests and/or provide a space for employees to pray.

If an employer has a rule about no praying in the workplace, you need to think about whether indirect discrimination could arise. This rule would apply to all employees, but it would of course only adversely affect those who are expected to pray at set times during the day, as Muslims are required to do.

Health & Safety

It is possible that fasting may impact an employee’s concentration and productivity levels. In this case employers should consider the health and safety of employees and whether an employee is able to perform their role whilst fasting.

This may be the case if an employee is operating heavy machinery or is responsible for the safety of others, such as a pilot. If this is the case, employers could ask fasting employees to perform a different role during Ramadan.

Employers should aim to accommodate Muslim employees and inform all employees of any relevant policies in place. This will help to create an inclusive working environment, motivate the workforce and prevent any potential discriminatory behaviours from occurring.

Harassment

You should try and make everyone in the workplace aware of Ramadan – consider putting a notice in the staff room or sending around an email.

It is 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 of decreased productivity due to fasting could lead to claims of harassment on the ground of religious belief.

Scheduling

You could schedule meetings and appraisals in the morning or at the start of their shift when they have the most energy.

Employers should be mindful that employees may not feel comfortable attending social or training events involving food and drink.

Annual leave requests

You may notice that you receive a high number of annual leave requests during this time, especially around the time of Eid Ul-Fitr celebrations.  The last ten days of Ramadan are particularly special for Muslims and due to the uncertainty of dates (as the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar), employers may receive annual leave requests at short notice.

There is no legal automatic entitlement to time off – employees will need to submit their requests in accordance with your company’s annual leave policy. Of course, you may be not be able to grant all requests, but you should try to be as reasonable and fair as possible when allocating leave to employees and accommodate requests as best as you can.

If you have a genuine reason for not approving the leave, you should aim to have a discussion with the employee and reach a compromise, for example, by allowing them to take leave the following year.

Sensitivity and cultural awareness are key for supporting your employees observing Ramadan. If you accommodate their needs, this will show good management and is sure to help with performance, productivity and morale.

If you need any advice on Ramadan in your workplace, do not hesitate to get in touch.

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