My Top Tips To Supporting Employees During Ramadan 2023
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and lasts for 29 to 30 days every year ending with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr. Ramadan starts a week earlier each year so Ramadan 2023 will start on the evening of 22 March and end 29-30 days later on 20 or 21 April.
The Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar so key dates and events are dependent on the sighting of the moon. The completion of the month of fasting is marked by a celebration called Eid ul Fitr with many staff wanting to book this day off as annual leave. Until the moon is sighted there is uncertainty around which day Eid is actually going to be. In the UK there is often a split in the Muslim community with some tending to follow a local sighting, with others following a sighting made overseas.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset (making the fasts approximately 12 hours for 2023 in the UK) and engage in increased acts of prayer and charity. As a result, a Muslim’s usual daily routine changes due to disrupted sleeping and meal times. Some Muslims may however be exempt from fasting (for example if they are pregnant, breastfeeding or due to health reasons) but will still take part in the other religious practices of Ramadan.
Sleep deprivation impacts on the fasting person possibly more so than the hunger and thirst as after the fast opens many spend their evening in prayer in the mosque, followed by a pre-fasting meal before praying once more and then sleeping. This will mean employees will be increasingly tired as the day progresses and mentally have lower levels of concentration. This is especially the case during the first week as a person adjusts to the change in sleeping and eating patterns, and during the last week as the month takes its toll, with many catching up on sleep when they return home at the end of the working day, until the fast opens later that evening.
Remember religion is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. This means employees must not be treated less favourably because they are fasting. Making allowances for observance to employees of one religion, but refusing to provide equivalent benefits to employees of a different one, will amount to direct religious discrimination.
Top Tips To Supporting Employees During Ramadan 2023
- Flexible Working
Having flexibility over working times where possible can help support fasting employees, whether this means a later start time or an earlier finish time while maintaining core hours. As fasting employees don’t need a lunch hour, giving a shortened lunch break within minimum legal stipulations helps so that time can be used to make up time, or this time can be used for a midday power nap. Many fasting people tend to pray more in this particular month, so expect to see staff wanting to spend part of their lunch break praying either on site or at local mosques if within reachable distance, particularly on Fridays.
Some employees may wish to start work earlier or work through their lunch break so they can leave work earlier in order to break their fast at home. Some may also prefer to work from home or at an alternative office to avoid a long commute to work.
If there is not already a flexible working policy in place, consider introducing one on a short-term basis.
- Annual Leave
An employee may request to take time off on certain days during Ramadan. The last ten days of Ramadan are particularly special and the end of Ramadan is marked by the Islamic holiday of Eid, which also signals an end to the fasting period. Due to the uncertainty of dates (as the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar), you may receive annual leave requests at short notice.
Many spend the Eid celebration with extended family, so that may involve travelling to another town or city. Having conversations early with your Muslim employees will help to plan work around their leave to minimise impact on the business.
You should be supportive towards employees who observe religions other than Christianity, particularly because the majority of Christian holidays are provided for in the UK as bank or public holidays. If you have a genuine reason for declining the leave, aim to have a discussion with the employee and reach a compromise, for example, by allowing them to take leave the following year.
The employment tribunal judgment in Mohammed Khan v NIC Hygiene, although not a recent case, serves as a reminder that a refusal to allow time off work for religious reasons may be discriminatory, even if the refusal is made in accordance with normal procedures.
It you do not have a policy on religious holidays consider introducing one, for managers to follow.
- Rest Breaks
While some Muslim employees may choose to continue with their usual routine at work, some employees may request more frequent breaks either to rest or pray.
Legally, you are only obliged to give an employee a 20-minute break if they work for more than six hours but consider if you can accommodate more frequent shorter breaks and if possible, provide a space for employees to pray without disruption.
- Scheduling Events
Be mindful that employees may not feel comfortable attending social, training events, conferences or offsite meetings – particularly if they involve food and drink. To prevent this, send an email to all staff or mention in team meetings that Ramadan has begun so team members are conscious when scheduling meetings and events.
Where an employee has reservations about attending an events, arrange to meet with the employee concerned to explore fully their reservations and determine whether or not a compromise can be reached. For example, the presence of food and drink at the event might be one of the concerns for the employee. Accordingly, consider carefully an employee’s request to be excused from attending work conferences, offsite locations, training and similar events during Ramadan because a failure to do so might amount to direct and indirect religious discrimination.
- Health and Safety
It is possible that fasting may impact an employee’s concentration and productivity levels. In this case employers should consider the health and safety of employees and whether an employee is able to perform their role whilst fasting. Be careful to ensure that employees are not penalised for any decrease in performance whilst fasting, as this could amount to unlawful discrimination.
This may be the case if an employee is operating heavy machinery or is responsible for the safety of others, such as a bus driver. If this is the case, consider asking fasting employees to perform a different role during the month.
- Productivity Levels
It is likely that the productivity of an employee who is fasting will be affected, particularly towards the latter part of the working day. Be aware of this and not unduly penalise or criticise an employee whose productivity has suffered because they are fasting during a period of religious observance.
In Bhatti and another v Pontiac Coils Europe Ltd, the employment tribunal held that comments made to an employee that criticised her for reduced work productivity levels because of fasting amounted to direct religious discrimination and harassment.
- Withdrawal Symptoms
Some fasting staff may be grouchier, so making some allowances for the reduced sugar levels can go a long way but this does not excuse rude behaviour. I recall a fasting colleague who had to abstain from smoking while fasting and this definitely impacted on his temperament. Similarly, those who drink considerable amounts of tea or coffee during the day can also go through withdrawal symptoms as the body detoxifies.
- Religious Observance Policy
Having a policy on religious observance during working hours should have a positive impact on employees. On the other hand, an absence of such a policy, together with a failure to be supportive towards employees whose religious beliefs require them to observe certain practices, could lead to accusations of religious discrimination.
Overall, aim to try and accommodate Muslim employees as far as possible and inform all employees of any relevant policies in place. This will help to create an inclusive working environment, motivate the workforce and prevent any potential discriminatory behaviours from occurring.
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