DURING the month of Ramadan, this year starting 12/13 April 2021, many Muslims will fast each day between sunrise and sunset, whilst performing additional prayers and other religious duties. This can have all sorts of potential effects on your staff during this time due to not eating or drinking during the day and the possible impact it has on their sleep patterns. From a legal perspective, employers should always ensure they are not treating an employee less favourably because of their religion or belief. Employers should therefore be aware of their obligations towards employees who are observing Ramadan. We hope to provide you below some tips on how to provide support at this time:
Communication and Support
Be approachable and encourage open and honest communication. Do not assume that all Muslim employees will be observing Ramadan in the same way, or those who are fasting will want any special arrangements. However, it could be hard for example, for someone to highlight that their performance may be affected, even short term, as a result of fasting or lack of sleep. Encourage discussion about any impact that they think fasting could have on their work, and any measures that could be helpful. You should ensure that employees are not penalised for any decrease in performance whilst fasting, as this could amount to unlawful discrimination.
Communicate wider and make colleagues aware of Ramadan to encourage them to be supportive, and in particular not to offer food or drink at this time, and ask them to consider rescheduling things such as training or events.
Policy and Practice
Religious Beliefs. It is against the law to treat an employee less favourably because of their religion or belief. This means that employers cannot dismiss someone, refuse to promote someone, or deny training to someone because of their religion. It would therefore be helpful to have a policy on how you will deal with such religious festivals, of all religions and within it set out a procedure for managers to follow. Outline your approach, clearly citing rights and information for support, be inclusive and open.
Harassment and Equal Opportunities Policy. To protect employees and prevent any potential religious harassment during Ramadan you should make sure to remind the workforce of your harassment policy and that action will be taken against anyone found responsible for offensive behaviours or inappropriate ‘banter’.
Private Prayer. Consider giving your Muslim employees a safe and private space to pray. This can be as simple as letting them have a meeting room to themselves for 15 minutes. You could also allow them time to go to a local mosque.
With many employees working at home while observing Ramadan this year there is greater opportunity for flexibility in terms of their working hours. Encourage regular breaks, as this may be particularly beneficial for employees who are fasting. We have one client who actively encourages FAD time each day – ‘Fresh Air and Daylight’ and they ask their staff to diary it to make sure it happens. This would be a really positive message at this time. Also, you could
- alter shift patterns,
- allow different start and finish times,
- all employees to work though their lunchbreak if they wish to do so,
- allow extra breaks for prayers or temporarily alter workload and tasks to reduce the chance of fatigue impacting performance or increasing risk of injury.
- arrange the days and plan for lower energy and concentration levels in the afternoon with tasks that are less physically or mentally demanding later in the day
As said though talk to the member of staff and see what they would like, if anything.
Some employees may wish to use some of their annual leave days to allow them extra rest during periods of fasting or participate in Eid-ul-Fitr (the festival to mark the end of Ramadan). Due to the uncertainty of dates (as the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar), you may receive annual leave requests at short notice. It would be wise to make an exception to normal request requirements to avoid discrimination claims, if at all possible. If you have a genuine reason for not being able to allow the leave, have a chat and see if an alternative can be reached such as allowing them to take leave the following year. Be reasonable.
Health and Safety
Given fasting can have an impact on employees’ concentration, performance, productivity and judgement you should consider whether there are any health and safety risks that need to be addressed to ensure everyone in the workplace is safe. This is especially the case if the employee is operating heavy machinery or undertaking a dangerous role. If this is the case, you could ask fasting employees to perform a different role during the month.
These tips aren’t about special treatments, or favouritism, they are about creating an inclusive and open culture and being supportive. It’s important to remember how each person behaves in Ramadan is different. And some days are easier than others. Don’t be afraid to ask your employees respectful questions to better understand their situation. Most Muslims will welcome the chance to share their beliefs.