Ramadan: what should employers know and do?

Written on 8 Jun 2016

The start of the holy month of Ramadan, the 9th month of the Islamic lunar year, was called on Monday 6 June.  Its observance is a fundamental part of the Islamic faith.

Ramadan is likely to impact on most workplaces

Throughout the month of Ramadan (which lasts approximately 29-30 days), Muslims around the world refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. As Ramadan coincides with the summer solstice this year, the average time between sunrise and sunset in the UK will be roughly 19 hours. During Ramadan, Muslims may also pray more during the night, possibly sleeping for only three to four hours.

Fasting in the summer, combined with disturbances in normal sleep pattern, can leave individuals feeling more tired than normal and potentially light headed, particularly by mid-afternoon and even more so towards the end of the day.

Muslims, who may not normally practice their faith outwardly, may also increase the practice of their faith during this month, spending more of their day than they would otherwise, praying and meditating.

With approximately 3 million Muslims currently living and working in the UK, Ramadan is likely to have an impact on most workplaces.

Diversity, understanding and tolerance

Diversity, understanding and tolerance are key to ensuring a harmonious and successful workplace. Ensuring the workforce understands Ramadan, and the practices undertaken by Muslims during it, should help avoid other employees acting in a potentially discriminatory way (advertently or inadvertently), for which an employer may be vicariously liable.

Employers should:

  • educate employees about what Ramadan involves for their Muslim colleagues;
  • ensure up-to-date policies are in place which recognise religious beliefs and seek to prevent less favourable treatment that may be connected with such beliefs;
  • remind managers of the potential impact that fasting may have on Muslim employees in terms of sleep, food and drink deprivation, particularly towards the end of the day. Undue disciplinary action or penalties imposed on an employee suffering such symptoms leaves an employer vulnerable to claims of religious discrimination, and potentially constructive dismissal.

Safety is critical

With the impact of fasting on energy levels, concentration and productivity, ensuring the safety of those Muslim employees who are fasting will be critical. Employers should consider conducting a risk assessment, in discussion with the relevant employee, to see if there are any additional risks that need to be addressed. Any proposed measures to be taken should be agreed.

Accommodating flexible working

Muslim employees may request adjustments to the working day during Ramadan, perhaps requesting to start early and/or take a shorter lunch break, so that they can finish early, enabling them to fast with their families at home.

Proper consideration should be given as to whether such requests can be accommodated on a temporary basis during Ramadan. Where a request is refused, there must be clear and identifiable business reasons as to why it cannot be accommodated. Employers must ensure they have given proper consideration to any alternatives, such as whether increased use of technology and remote access may facilitate such working arrangements.

Rest-breaks

Muslims will endeavour to practice their faith more during Ramadan than they might for the remainder of the year. As a consequence, more Muslim employees may offer prayers during the day, for a few minutes at a time, normally around 1:00 pm and 5:00 pm in the summer months. If employers do not have a designated prayer room, consideration should be given to allocating a place where Muslims can pray at ease.

Night-workers

Where an employer has night-workers, consideration will also need to be given to ensuring that they are able to take part in the breaking of the fast at Iftar and Suhoor (the meals after sunset and before sunrise).

Dealing with leave requests

As the start of Ramadan can vary slightly depending upon regional customs and when the new moon is first sighted, it is difficult for employees to plan in advance. Employers should anticipate requests for annual leave at short notice – particularly in the lead up to the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and is a public holiday in many Muslim countries across the world.

There is no reason for employers to depart from the usual procedures for annual leave requests. Genuine, reasoned explanations should be given where a request cannot be accommodated. If a significant number of Muslim employees want to take leave at the same time, employers will need to ensure that they operate a fair system for granting leave and act reasonably in balancing the needs of the business with such requests.  Employers should also look to ensure that any decisions do not put employees – of any particular religion or belief (or those who do not hold any religious beliefs) – at a disadvantage.

Attending workplace functions and social events

For Muslims, Ramadan is a calm, reflective time. Muslim workers should ideally not be expected to attend team and client entertainment events during the holy month, being given the freedom to make their own decision as to what they wish to do. Managers must consider carefully any requests by an employee who is fasting to be excused from participating at such events. Any concerns or reservations the employee has should be discussed. Crucially, Muslim employees should not suffer any disadvantage as a result of non-attendance, which would be potentially discriminatory.

And remember….

Ramadan is a peaceful time for the Muslim community – abstinence from everyday consumption allows time for reflection on those who are less fortunate. By recognising the significance of Ramadan and showing a willingness to accommodate its physical impact on fasting Muslim employees, an employer will be seen to be a progressive and respectful business, which can help in attracting a diverse and balanced workforce.