The arrival of Ramadan this week brings a month of worship, devotion and community gathering for many Muslims in the UK – and a responsibility on employers to support their employees during a month-long holy period.
Ramadan begins on Wednesday 22 March and finishes on Friday 21 April, with the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan, when Muslims break their daylight fasting.
The beginning of Ramadan is an ideal time to remember the importance of supporting Muslim colleagues who are observing the Islamic holy month – especially as many Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan; and also wish to spend time in prayer, engage in charitable activities; and celebrate with family and friends.
During this time, many Muslims are faced with the challenge of balancing their religious commitments with work – and to be an inclusive employer, it’s important that organisations and their management teams accommodate employees who are observing Ramadan.
Five Top-Tips to ‘Getting it Right’ for Ramadan
Muslims, as a religious group, are protected under the Equality Act 2010, so employers need to ensure they don’t discriminate against any employees observing Ramadan – and that can mean making a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to ensure the needs of fasting employees are considered in the workplace, for example.
Two-way communication is the best way to find those ‘reasonable adjustments’ – and that means asking any Muslim employees (or their representatives) what can be done to support them, to ensure productivity doesn’t drop and that religious obligations are respected.
Small changes and collaborative adjustments can ensure that Muslim employees are able to truly celebrate their faith without it impacting their work – with best practice advice including:
1. Being flexible with working patterns
Adjusting working patterns is probably one of the most helpful things any employer can do for employees observing Ramadan. Employers need to remember that an employee may be getting up earlier than usual to have a meal before sunrise, fasting during daylight hours – and staying up late for evening prayers.
This can lead to fatigue and drops in concentration, so employers should consider (if possible) pitting in place temporary arrangements during Ramadan to allow employees to:
- start work earlier than usual so that they can leave the workplace earlier; and
- be flexible with their lunch break, for example by shortening it or taking it earlier or later in the day.
It’s important to ensure that such temporary arrangements are not seen by others as allowing the employee to reduce their working hours – and make sure that arrangements are not in breach of working time legislation.
2. Encouraging employees to be open about their religious observance
Employees who are fasting will usually attend work ‘as normal’ but can be encouraged to tell their employer that they are fasting. This should be done in a sensitive manner – line managers and colleagues should not pry, as some people will be uncomfortable sharing the details of their religious beliefs.
Also, employers shouldn’t assume that all employees want to be treated differently because they are fasting. Indeed, not all individuals observing Ramadan will actually be fasting – for example, there are exceptions for people with health conditions, or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Employers can strike a balance by putting a message on their intranet about the fasting period, with an invitation to employees to register their needs during Ramadan.
3. Educating line managers and colleagues about Ramadan
Employers can raise awareness of key religious events, including Ramadan, by having a calendar of the main religious days and festivals on their intranet. There are simple steps that everyone can take to support individuals during Ramadan observance, including:
- Avoiding placing additional burdens (such as overtime) on people while they are fasting
- Being considerate by not offering food or drink to them
- Avoiding having work events that involve food, such as working lunches and team meetings where biscuits or food spreads are placed in front of people
- Avoiding scheduling important meetings, such as performance appraisals, late in the day when energy levels may be low.
4. Accommodating annual leave requests where possible
Employers may see an increase in holiday requests from Muslim employees during Ramadan, particularly during the Eid festival that marks the end of Ramadan.
While there is no automatic right to time off for religious reasons, line managers should be sensitive to the needs of employees who are observing religious events, including Ramadan – reducing the risk of discrimination by taking a consistent approach to requests for time off, and refusing requests only where they have a legitimate reason (always explaining the reason for that refusal in a full and considerate way.)
5. Embracing the advantages of hybrid working
The pandemic saw many employers introduce hybrid working, where possible – and the hybrid model can be used to support employees who are observing Ramadan.
For example, an employer could temporarily change the ratio of time spent attending the workplace, compared with time working remotely – enabling employees who are fasting to spend more time at home during Ramadan.
Line managers who are organising meetings on a particular day should consider whether it’s possible for the employee to work from home and join the meeting remotely.
We hope these ‘top tips’ help you and your team respect and celebrate Ramadan appropriately – and if you’re looking for more in-depth advice on navigating Ramadan (and all religious events), the Equality and Human Rights Commission offers further free resources and professional advice.