Ramadan: How to support colleagues during the holy month

by | Apr 3, 2022 | Blog

From 1st April to 1st May 2022, Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset (making the fasts approximately 18 hours this year), therefore they will not eat food, drink liquids or smoke.   They will also 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 however 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 can line managers, HR professionals and colleagues do to support Muslim employees during this period?

The law

Firstly, 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.

Flexible working

Perhaps the most frequent request you will receive from your team members is seeking some degree of flexibility in their working hours during this period.  Therefore, 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 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 if they can accommodate for such requests and/or even provide a space for employees to pray. Employers should also ensure that employees are not penalised for any decrease in performance whilst fasting, as this could amount to unlawful discrimination.

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. However, it wouldn’t adversely impact a Roman Catholic who wouldn’t normally be expected to pray at set times during the day but it would adversely impact a Muslim where there is that requirement.

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 the month.

Overall, employers should aim to try and accommodate Muslim employees as far as possible 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 – 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.  Fasting for 17 hours a day is not easy and colleagues should appreciate how this can impact on working practices.

Making jokes or comments to an employee because their productivity is lower than normal because they are fasting could lead to claims of harassment on the ground of religious belief.

Why not use Ramadan as a platform for greater understanding and improving team dynamics.  We’ve even heard of employer’s organising a virtual iftar one evening to allow teams to share a part of a colleague’s life at this important time of year for Muslims.

Scheduling

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

Colleagues 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 celebration of Eid Ul-Fitr.  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.