Supporting Employees During Ramadan
Supporting Employees During Ramadan is important. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and engage in increased levels of prayer. In 2020 the period of fasting will start at around 6am and end around 8pm, approximately 14 hours per day. As a result, a Muslim’s usual daily routine changes due to disrupted sleeping and meal times. So it makes sense that Muslim employees may need support during the month of Ramadan.
This year, many Muslims will be working from home or may have been furloughed so some aspects of the fasting element will be easier without the commute, but there is a lot an employer can do to engage and support its Muslim workforce.
When Is Ramadan?
The Islamic calendar is based around the lunar cycle, the Holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month in the 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. The day’s fast is completed at sunset and the Maghrib prayers begin. It is traditional to end fasting by eating dates before the evening meal with family and friends.
The start of Ramadan begins with the sighting of the moon and in 2020 the holy month of Ramadan is likely to begin on the evening of Thursday 23 April and the first day of fasting will begin at sunrise on Friday 24 April 2020. The last day of fasting will be 29 or 30 days later with the Eid-ul Fitr celebrations that begin with a communal prayer and time spent with family and loved ones. Expect holiday requests during the last 10 days of Ramadan and especially for the Eid day celebration.
Fasting during Ramadan involves abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset for a month, which in 2019 from 5:00 am to 9:00 pm. Many also choose to spend their evening in prayer at the mosques from late evening to 1am, followed by a pre-fasting meal at 2am before praying once more and then sleeping around 3am. Sleep deprivation therefore impacts on the fasting person possibly more so than the hunger and thirst.
During this month, Muslims who are physically able to, would normally open their fasts collectively with family and friends or at mosques with other members of the congregation. The mosques would be typically packed with worshippers engaged in communal prayer during the evening into the early hours of the morning.
Due to coronavirus, mosques are currently closed. Many will be affected by COVID-19 and those with symptoms may not be physically able to fast this year nor would they be required to.
The sense of isolation will be more notable for Muslim worshippers who have always enjoyed the communal elements of Ramadan but being at home allows for more time to spend in self reflection, contemplation and spiritual awakening through reading the Quran and prayer.
Six Ways To Supporting Employees During Ramadan
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.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, so this year the period of fasting is approximately 14 hours this year 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.
So how can you supporting employees during ramadan?
- Flexible Working
If there is not already a flexible working policy in place, you might consider supporting fasting employees by offering temporary arrangements that allow them to alter their start and finish times 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 made up 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. Offering remote or home working arrangements may also help employee’s who are faced with a long commute to work.
- Annual Holiday Entitlement
As the Islamic calendar follows the lunar calendar it is dependent on the sighting of the moon. The completion of the month of fasting is marked by a celebration called Eid ul Fitr and many fasting employees will want to book this day off as annual leave. Depending on the number of Muslim employees you have this can have a real impact on business if Eid falls on a working day.
This is made more difficult by the fact that 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. Many spend the Eid celebration with family, which in the case of many includes extended family often in different cities. Having that conversation early with your Muslim employees will help to plan work around their leave to minimise impact on the business.
Due to the uncertainty of the actual dates, requests for holiday may be submitted at short notice. You should therefore consider relaxing the usual notice periods your holiday policy stipulates for requesting periods of leave.
You may not be able to accomodate all the requests you receive, however you should try as much as possible to ensure requests are not rejected just because it is a busy period or because other employees are off. 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.
If you have a genuine reason for not approving the leave, you should aim to have a discussion with the employee and reach a compromise, for example, by allowing them to take leave the following year. It may be helpful to set out a procedure for managers to follow in a religious holiday policy.
- 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.
You are only obliged to give an employee a 20-minute break if they work for more than six hours but should consider if you can accommodate for such requests and/or even provide a space for employees to pray. You should also ensure that employees are not penalised for any decrease in performance whilst fasting, as this could amount to unlawful discrimination.
- Scheduling Training, Conferences and Meeting
You may find that some employees who are in a period of religious observance are reluctant to attend training events, conferences or offsite meetings that involve food and drink. During Ramadan, Muslims are obliged to abstain from all food and drink between dawn and sunset. Accordingly, you should 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.
If any employee is reluctant to attend such an event you should meet with them to fully explore their reservations about attending 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 them.
To prevent this, send around an email or mention in your next team meeting that Ramadan has begun and for team members to be conscious of this when scheduling meetings and events.
- Health and Safety
It is possible that fasting may impact an employee’s concentration and productivity levels. In this case consider the health and safety of employees and whether an employee is able to perform their role whilst fasting.
This may be the case if an employee is operating heavy machinery or is responsible for the safety of others, such as a pilot. If this is the case, you could ask fasting employees to perform a different role during the month.
Overall, you should 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.
- Show Tolerance on Reduced Productivity Levels
Employees who are fasting 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.
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.
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