In 2021, Ramadan will begin on April 12 and conclude on May 12. The precise timing of this festival varies each year as the dates depend upon the lunar cycle. In the UK, those observing this Islamic holy month will take part in religious practices for that 30-day period.
Employers with Muslim employees need to be aware that, during Ramadan, these workers are likely to be fasting during daylight hours. This means that they will go without food or water from sunrise until sunset, which represents an average of 14 hours at this time of year.
Although fasting tends to be the primary association made with Ramadan, the month involves a lot more than refraining from food and water. Carefully timed meals take place before dawn and after sunset, alongside extra prayers, late nights and an increased emphasis on patience and virtue. In addition, the festival of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan.
This means that HR practitioners, managers and colleagues need to be aware of and sensitive to the personal beliefs and religious sensibilities of their employees.
Understanding their experience and accommodating their particular requirements demonstrates good management skills and helps to ensure that people do not feel marginalised because of their beliefs.
It will also have the benefit of helping them perform to the best of their abilities during what can be a testing and often exhausting time.
Implementing inclusive policies and frameworks which accommodate people’s faiths and beliefs will boost diversity, foster trust and, ultimately, lead to higher staff engagement and retention, better morale, more effective team work and greater productivity.
As an employer, the best course of action you can take is to communicate with Muslim employees and devise a plan which best meets their needs.
While you don’t have any legal obligation to grant requests, there are several ways you could still fall foul of the requirements to avoid discrimination on religious grounds, so be mindful of this.
Also, be aware that some staff members who would otherwise participate in the fast may not do so for personal reasons. These could include an underlying health condition, taking medication or a female staff member during her menstrual cycle. Our advice is to tread with caution around these conversations.
The majority of Ramadan requests are based around flexible working, staggered breaks and annual leave. The key, in most cases, is to act reasonably and not deny a request without reasonable justification.
Consider health and safety
For people working while observing Ramadan, the physical effects of fasting can take their toll. Employers have a duty to protect all employees’ health and safety, and if a fasting employee has a job where tiredness or a lack of concentration could represent a potential hazard, a risk assessment should be carried out. This means that necessary changes and measures can be put in place to ensure the safety of Muslim employees and their colleagues. This will vary, depending upon the nature of the employer’s business and the roles being carried out.
Make exceptions to the rule
Towards the end of the working day, when Muslim employees have been fasting since dawn, their concentration and productivity is likely to be lower than usual. Individuals should not be performance managed as a result and employers should be made aware that unduly criticising an employee whose work is suffering as a result of fasting, could lead to claims for religious discrimination or constructive dismissal.
Consider a flexible working model
Employers should consider allowing Muslim employees to work flexible hours or temporarily putting in place remote working arrangements. Alternatively, employers should consider rescheduling complex meetings or difficult tasks which require increased concentration to the morning when the energy and attention levels of employees observing Ramadan may be higher.
Provide rest breaks
Given the importance placed on prayer during Ramadan, Muslim employees may wish to take rest breaks throughout the day to do so. Only one 20 minute break every six hours is mandatory under the Working Time Regulations 1998.
However, employers should approach requests for additional prayer breaks sensitively and should think creatively about accommodating people’s wishes where possible. For example, it might be possible to assign a dedicated prayer room on the premises for the duration of Ramadan to reduce the amount of time employees need to be away from work.
Authorise annual leave requests
There are no public holidays in the UK for non-Christian days. However, Muslim employees will naturally want to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and so employers will need to deal with authorising requests for annual leave in accordance with their usual procedure.
Requests should not be dismissed simply because it is a busy period or other staff members already have holiday booked. Full and fair consideration should be given to the practicability of accommodating the request.
Employ a system to efficiently manage increased leave
If many Muslim employees want to take the same time off, it may not be possible to accommodate everyone due to the needs of the business. However, employers should act reasonably and have a fair system for granting leave which does not put employees of any particular religion or belief, or equally those who do not hold any religious beliefs, at a disadvantage.
What is reasonable will very much depend on the size of the employer, its resources and the number of employees requesting leave at the same time. Compromise might be necessary, such as turning down the request but placing the employee at the top of the list the following year.
If high numbers of Muslims work in the organisation, it may prove more practical for the employer to shut down operations altogether on the relevant day and request that everyone in the business uses that time as annual leave.
Factor in the festivals
To mark the end of Ramadan, there is a three-day religious festival called Eid al-Fitr. This means that you may well receive an increased volume of holiday requests from Muslim employees during the last 10 days of Ramadan to prepare for the festivities.
These should be processed in line with your usual holiday policy. Remember though that the major Christian religious holidays of Christmas and Easter are already marked with bank holidays.
With careful planning, it may be possible to prioritise holiday requests from Muslim staff at this time. You do still have a business to run though, and commercial needs may ultimately determine the overall outcome.
There are strong long-term benefits which come with accommodating staff who have specific needs, such as Muslims during Ramadan and Eid. Productivity may be affected in the short-term, but it will help to forge good relationships and loyalty among employees.
If you would like to talk about our MERJE Together pledge and promoting diversity, inclusion and equality in the workplace, please get in touch with our team: firstname.lastname@example.org.