Ramadan – is your workplace ready?

What is Ramadan and when does it take place?

Ramadan is an annual festival and a four week period during which observant Muslims fast each day from sunrise to sunset. Fasting includes not eating food, drinking liquids or smoking.

Ramadan is also a time of prayer and charity, whether making donations or participating in charitable activities.

The observance of Ramadan is an essential part of the Islamic faith.

This year Ramadan commenced on 27 May (although this date may vary slightly depending upon regional customs and when the new moon is first seen) and will continue for 29-30 days ending with the celebration of Eid-Ul-Fitr.

Not all Muslims will fast throughout Ramadan. Exemptions include for example, children, the elderly, the ill and pregnant or breastfeeding women.

What effect will Ramadan have on Muslim staff?

Whilst fasting, employees will most likely be prone to lower energy levels and potentially reduced concentration and productivity. This will be particularly heightened towards the end of the working day as they will have consumed no food or water since dawn.

Many Muslims will also pray at regular intervals throughout each day which may affect meeting times and availability generally.

What considerations/adjustments should employers make to accommodate Ramadan?

First and foremost, employers must be mindful of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 and the need to ensure that no employees suffer direct or indirect discrimination or harassment due to their religion or belief. By way of example, making allowances for employees of one religion but not providing equivalent allowances to employees of a different religion will constitute direct discrimination.

In an effort to comply with the Equality Act it would be sensible for employers to implement a written policy on religious observance during working hours. Arguably the absence of such a policy could result in accusations of discrimination.

Similarly, in a further effort to raise awareness in the workplace with regard to Ramadan and other religious festivals, employers may wish to post information on notice boards or on email circulars. This will also alert other employees.

Employers may also wish to consider the following:

  • When Ramadan is approaching establish who in the workplace will be observing it and therefore who will be affected by it.
  • Be understanding towards employees and do not overly criticise an employee whose performance or productivity has suffered or where an employee may be irritable when he or she is fasting. This includes issuing any disciplinary proceedings.
  • As the effects of fasting are likely to be heightened in the afternoon, it may help to suggest to employees that they use the morning to attend meetings and carry out more challenging work, with more straight forward tasks being delayed until the afternoon. Employers may also want to give employees the opportunity to swap shifts or temporarily change their working hours in a way that suits both parties.
  • Give careful thought to an employees request to be excused from attending conferences, meetings, training or other work related events and meet with the employee concerned to discuss the situation and fully explore alternatives. Such a request could be due to praying times or could be an effort to avoid attending an event where food and/or drink may be present.
  • Given the additional time spent carrying out prayer during Ramadan, in an effort to manage their workload employees may benefit from a shorter lunch break. Whilst this should not be enforced, it could be suggested to employees in an effort to assist them and reduce stress levels. Alternatively, employees may request a shorter lunch break in return for a slightly earlier finish time as a temporary measure.
  • Employers may receive a large number of requests to take annual leave towards the end of Ramadan, especially to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid which marks the end of Ramadan. Whilst it may not be possible or practical for all requests for annual leave to be granted, employers should still speak with employees about this and be supportive of those employees who observe religions other than Christianity. In this regard, employers may also wish to include a section on religious holidays in any holiday policy or policy on religious observance.

Should you require any advice or assistance regarding this article or any other aspect of employment law please contact Louise Allen at [email protected] or by telephone 020 7408 8888.