We are currently in the midst of Ramadan, which for many Muslims is a period of religious observance.
Ramadan is the annual four-week period during which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, pray, and give to charity. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which inform how Muslims live their lives. Muslims believe fasting gives them a better understanding of the needs of the poor and those without food, and brings them closer to God, or Allah.
Ramadan lasts for approximately thirty days. The Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles so the exact dates of observance change each year. This year Ramadan begins on 16 May and ends on 14 June with the celebration of Eid-Ul-Fitr. Families and friends will come together for huge celebrations, prayers and feasts.
How to support employees who wish to observe Ramadan
A failure to account for religious beliefs in the workplace may cause employee relations issues and risk exposure to tribunal claims. So how can employers support Muslim employees during the Ramadan period?
Fasting during Ramadan
With the exception of people travelling, children, and pregnant women, Muslims fast each day of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is not limited to food – it also includes liquids or smoking. Fasting could clearly impact on the employee’s energy levels, concentration and productivity, particularly towards the end of a typical working day.
If you are aware that some of your employees are fasting, it’s sensible to talk to them to understand their choices and agree what steps can be taken to minimise any impact on performance and the business as a whole. These could include:
- Changing start and finish times as appropriate
- Rearranging important meetings or challenging work to take place at the start of the day, with more routine tasks moved to the afternoon
- Temporarily introducing shorter, more regular and/or additional breaks
- Accommodation of prayer requirements / breaks
- Educating all employees on the possible effects of fasting (e.g. tiredness, irritability) and to refrain from offering food and drink to Muslim colleagues during this time.
If a Muslim employee who is fasting during Ramadan asks for changes to be made to their working day or shift, you can choose to refuse these where there are clear and identifiable business reasons for doing so. Requests should never be refused on the basis 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.
Impact on performance
It is possible for fasting employees to experience a dip in work performance during this period of abstinence. Employees should demonstrate empathy and be mindful of criticising or punishing an employee whose performance is affected as a result of fasting. Failure to do so could lead to complaints of discrimination.
Where a fasting employee has a job where a lack of concentration or tiredness could represent a health and safety hazard then a risk assessment should be undertaken. Employers should pay particular attention to those in manual roles who operate machinery or vehicles.
The festival of Eid Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, which this year falls on Friday 15 June. Annual leave requests from Muslim employees are likely at this time. As a matter of forward planning, if you have not already received leave requests from employees you know to be observing Ramadan, you would be wise to enquire if time off will be required. This will avoid any future unauthorised absence issues.
Talk about Ramadan
Empathy and understanding are essential to running a seamless operation during periods of religious observance such as Ramadan. With good forward planning, great communication and by engaging employees at the earliest opportunity, you will minimise the possibility of employee relations issues.
If you experience HR or employment law challenges during Ramadan or any other period of religious observance, you know where to come. You can contact us for HR help and guidance at any time.