We are currently in the midst of Ramadan which, for many Muslims, is a period of religious observance. Failing to account for this in the workplace can give rise to employee relations issues and risk exposure to tribunal claims. Here, we look at ways in which employers can support their Muslim employees during this period.
Ramadan is the annual four week period during which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, pray and give to charity. Its observance is a part of the Islamic faith. It lasts for approximately thirty days and whilst the exact dates change each year, this year it started on 27 May and is expected to end on or around 24 June with the celebration of Eid-Ul-Fitr.
Many Muslims are fasting each day from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is not limited to food – it also includes not drinking liquids or smoking. This could obviously impact on energy levels, concentration and productivity, particularly at the end of a typical working day. Therefore, it is a good idea for employers that are aware that some of their employees are fasting to liaise with them in respect of what steps can be taken to minimise any impact on performance and the business as a whole. These could include:
- different start and finish times as appropriate;
- moving important meetings / challenging work to the start of the day, with more routine tasks being undertaken in the afternoon;
- shorter, more regular and/or additional breaks;
- accommodation of prayer requirements / breaks;
- communication with other employees on the possible effects of fasting (e.g. tiredness, irritability) and the types of behaviours that should be avoided during this time (e.g. offers food and drink).
Other considerations include:
- be mindful of criticising / punishing an employee whose performance is affected as a result of fasting as this could lead to complaints of discrimination;
- if a fasting employee has a job where a lack of concentration / tiredness could represent a health and safety hazard then a risk assessment should be undertaken;
- there are three days to mark the end of Ramadan (Eid Al-Fitr) and so corresponding leave requests from Muslim employees are likely – employers who have yet to receive such requests from employees they know to be observing Ramadan and who are therefore likely to celebrate Eid should consider enquiring as whether any time off will be required so that unauthorised absence issues can be headed off at the pass;
- Muslim employees who are fasting during Ramadan may ask for changes to be made to their working days / shifts – these can be refused where there are clear and identifiable business reasons for doing so, but not because of the employee’s Muslim faith as this will constitute less favourable treatment on the grounds of religion or belief and risk a related tribunal claim.
As per the above points, communication tends to be the key to minimising the ER implications and operational impact of periods of religious observance such as Ramadan.