Supporting Fasting Employees During Ramadan

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In this article, Myerson's team of Employment lawyers explore what the festival of Ramadan involves for Muslim employees and what businesses can do to ensure participating employees are appropriately supported.

What is Ramadan?  

Ramadan is a very important time in the Islamic calendar and is one of the five pillars of Islam.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world observe a period of fasting.

The holy Muslim month of Ramadan began on the evening of the 22nd of March this year.

Members of the Muslim faith worldwide observe this festival each year, which lasts for one lunar month and culminates in the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which is expected to fall this year on the 21st of April.

During this time, Muslims will refrain from eating or drinking during the hours of daylight and will only eat before dawn (suhoor) and at sunset (iftar).

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Supporting fasting employees during Ramadan

How can employers help employees involved in Ramadan?

Fasting can impact productivity and concentration levels and may well lead to fatigue.

Employers should be mindful of the energy levels of Muslim employees during their fast, especially in jobs where the work is physically demanding.

A 2021 survey of British Muslims conducted by the Muslim Census found that 65% of participants felt that their workplace was supportive throughout Ramadan.

Of this group, 56% reported that they were likely to stay at their place of employment for the next five years.

Conversely, of those who said their workplace was not supportive, only 28% said they were likely to stay.

This indicates a strong correlation between the level of support offered by employers and staff retention rate.

So what can employers do to keep their employees feeling happy and supported?

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How can employers help employees involved in Ramadan

Accommodate flexible working

Employers should be cognisant of the impact of fasting on employees' energy levels throughout the day and plan accordingly.

Employers should avoid arranging events or meetings around lunchtime or in the evening and, ideally, schedule them earlier.

Employers should be fair and considerate in how they distribute rest breaks. Generally, only one 20-minute break every six hours is mandatory under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

However, given the importance of prayer during Ramadan, Muslim employees may wish to take more frequent breaks throughout the day to pray.

Employers should approach these requests sensitively and should encourage employees who are observing Ramadan to take rest breaks where needed.

In addition, ACAS and the EHRC recommend that employers allow Muslim staff longer on Fridays for Jummah prayers by starting their working day earlier.

Many employers pivoted to remote working during the pandemic, and many have adopted a hybrid working model since then.

Allowing Muslim employees to work remotely removes the need for them to commute, which could be draining for a fasting employee.

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Accommodate flexible working

Be flexible with annual leave requests

The Working Time Regulations 1998 provide a minimum annual holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks, which can include public and bank holidays.

Employers should appreciate that they may see increased holiday requests from Muslim employees during Ramadan, particularly during Eid al-Fitr.

Eid has no fixed date, given that the month of Ramadan is aligned with the lunar calendar. Therefore, these requests may be made at short notice.

Employers are encouraged to be flexible with their annual leave requests from Muslim staff around this time and exercise sensitivity when considering them.

The last ten days of Ramadan are considered especially holy, so that employers may receive an influx of requests for annual leave during this period.

Employers should therefore be prepared and organised, keeping an eye on workload, arranging cover and being as accommodating as possible.

While there is no automatic right to time off for religious reasons, employers should be sensitive to the needs of employees observing Ramadan.

It is particularly important for employers to avoid discriminatory practices when dealing with competing requests for annual leave or requests relating to a worker's religion or belief, which are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

To reduce the risk of discrimination, employers should take a consistent approach to requests and not arbitrarily refuse them without a legitimate business reason.

A full explanation for the refusal to grant an annual leave request should always be given in a considerate way.

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Be flexible with annual leave requests

Communicate with employees

Employers are encouraged to stay connected with those fasting, checking in with a call or message to see how they are.

Employers should hold and encourage respectful and supportive conversations and avoid asking direct questions that require employees to discuss their personal approach to Ramadan, which sensitive factors, such as health, could influence.

Employers and colleagues should not pry as some might consider their religious beliefs to be a private matter that they are uncomfortable discussing.

Instead, employees should be encouraged to be open about their religious observance, and they should be invited to let their employer know if there is anything that can be done to help them feel more supported or accommodated during this period.

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Communicate with employees

Identify and offer a prayer space

A great deal of importance is placed on reflection and prayer during Ramadan.

Employers may decide to offer a dedicated multi-faith area where employees who are observing Ramadan can go and pray, free from disturbance.

If so, they should discuss with employees what facilities they need and identify an appropriate space.

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Identify and offer a prayer space

Raise awareness in the workplace

Employers must ensure that all their employees have an appreciation of what is involved for those observing Ramadan.

Employers could put a message on their intranet or employee notice boards about Ramadan and the fasting period.

Employers could also inform their workforce about how they support Muslim employees and how non-Muslim employees can support their observing colleagues.

Despite the above points all being useful measures, employers should also keep in mind that some employees participating in fasting may not want their role to be impacted, so they might not want the above adjustments.

Alternatively, other Muslim employees may not observe a fast for specific reasons, such as illness or pregnancy.

Myerson wishes all those who are observing Ramadan Mubarak.

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Raise awareness in the workplace

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