The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is fast approaching, so I’d like to take a timely look at the practical considerations for employers during this period. It helps to be mindful of how Ramadan can impact your workforce, and being prepared as an organisation enables employers to best support their Muslim employees through this period.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year, the holiest month, and is a time where Muslims around the world focus on spirituality. During Ramadan, Muslims are prohibited from consuming food and drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset for 30 days.
The exact dates of Ramadan change every year because Islam uses a lunar calendar, which means that each month begins with the sighting of a new moon. This year Ramadan will begin in the evening of Tuesday, 15th May and will end in the evening of Thursday, 14th June. Given the amount of daylight hours at this time of the year in the northern hemisphere, this year’s Ramadan will involve challenging fasting periods of up to 16 or 17 hours for Muslims in the UK.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims take part in a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast-Breaking). This year, the festivities will begin after sunset on Thursday 14th June with the sight of the new moon. Eid is a time of charitable giving, to help those in need. Muslims will decorate their homes, celebrate and spend time with family and friends, and share gifts and well-wishes. In most Muslim countries, the entire three-day period is an official government and school holiday.
Working During Ramadan
From a regulatory perspective, in the UK employers have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 by maintaining a working environment in which no one is put at a disadvantage because of their religion or belief. Companies may be at risk of discrimination claims if they treat those observing Ramadan less favourably than other employees, or if they operate policies that put those observing Ramadan at a disadvantage.
Many Muslims will carry on working during Ramadan and in the course of their working day can be affected by a drop in energy, tiredness, and lower concentration levels. It’s helpful if employers can exercise sensitivity and considerate behaviour around colleagues taking part in Ramadan to foster a supportive environment.
What to Consider
How can you best prepare your business and your workforce for Ramadan?
- Communicate with staff to inform them of Ramadan: This is a good opportunity to inform all employees of what fasting entails and the effect on colleagues taking part.
- Offer greater flexibility of hours: Be ready to be flexible with working hours and duties at work. During Ramadan a fasting employee’s day starts much earlier, so arranging for meetings, training and other important tasks to be held in the mornings when employees’ energy levels are likely to be higher can really help. Fasting employees may also wish to start work earlier.
- Accept requests for breaks sensitively: Fasting employees may prefer to miss or reduce lunch breaks in order to get home earlier, so that they can end the day’s fast with their families.
- Be open to short notice leave requests: At Eid, employers should be prepared to receive requests for holiday from Muslim workers seeking to take part in the celebrations at this time. These requests may be made at short notice, as they are dependent on the sighting of the moon.
- Take the opportunities for engagement and education: Ramadan presents a great opportunity to drive employee engagement and understanding among the wider workforce of this type of religious event. Eid celebrations can be a particularly effective and inclusive opportunity to involve all staff across the workforce in the festival. Employers may want to consider providing some themed food and treats, arranging fundraising activities, or holding an Eid party or lunch.
- Have a policy in place: It is good practice for employers to have a Ramadan policy in place, which sets out the standard expected of all employees.
Ramadan and Eid mean a great deal to Muslim colleagues. Being able to bring those celebrations to work and share with fellow colleagues will do wonders for staff morale and the working environment.
If you would like to discuss the issues raised in this blog or any business-related legal matter, please get in touch.