Ramadan: What All Employers Need to Know
It's that time of year again – with the break of dawn on June 7th the holy month of Ramadan begins. Muslims around the world embark on a period of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving. Fasting during Ramadan is 1 of the 5 pillars of Islam, and with over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, it's one of the largest religious practises worldwide.
With this in mind, it's important for all employers to think about how the month long observance is going to impact their employees and to take steps to ensure they're fully supported in the workplace. Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of Corporate Services
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan marks the 9th month of the Islamic year. As it follows the lunar cycle, Ramadan is on different days each year. Muslims believe that it was during this 9th month that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. It's seen as the holiest month and a time for Muslims to practice spirituality and self-denial.
Ramadan falls around 11 days earlier each year, and with Ramadan this year falling in June, Muslims will be fasting for as long as 18 hours each day. During the month, many Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. The fast is broken each day at sundown with a communal meal - "Iftar". Not all Muslims need to fast – children and people who are unwell, breastfeeding, pregnant, menstruating, elderly or travelling on a journey don't need to fast, however may need to make up missed fasting days at a later date.
Top Tips to Support Employees During Ramadan
Many Muslims continue to work as normal throughout Ramadan, but the fasting can bring tiredness and affect concentration. Remember that as an employer, you must comply with the Equality Act 2010 – this legally protects employees
from being treated less favourably or discriminated against because of their religion. Whilst it's important to not fall foul of these laws, remember that taking a positive and proactive approach to Ramadan is good for both your business and your employees. Cohesion helps to drive engagement and above all ensures your employees feel fully supported.
1. Make Sure all Employees Know Ramadan is Approaching
It is good practice to make sure everyone knows what Ramadan is and how it may affect their colleagues. Have a clear policy on Ramadan in your employee handbook setting out expected employee standards.
2. Expect Holiday Requests
Know when the end of Ramadan is as it marks Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking the fast) – it's one of the most important religious holidays and is a 3 day festival of charitable giving and celebration. Try to think of this as having the same emotional gravity as Christmas and expect an influx of holiday requests which could be anything from 1 day to 2 weeks. This year it's expected Eid may fall around the 7th July – although this is subject to regional changes as it depends on the first sighting of the new moon.
Holiday requests should be dealt with as usual according to your policies. This Ramadan falls in summer when annual leave is already in high demand, it is advisable to notify employees to anticipate this and book them early. Requests may still be refused if there is a business reason, however refusing time off just because it is a religious holiday is unlawful and could give rise to a discrimination claim
3. Offering and Allowing Flexible Working
Employees fasting during Ramadan may experience more tiredness, especially towards the end of the working day. Offering flexibility can help make things easier for employees and keep productivity up. You can do this by:
- Moving meetings to earlier in the day,
- Arranging shifts and working hours differently during the month, and
- Encouraging regular breaks.
In order to refuse a request for different shifts, you must be able to show clear business reasons for doing so. Again, if the refusal is due to the religious holiday then this may give rise to a discrimination claim.
4. Help Employees Understand by Getting Involved
The best way to gain an understanding is to get involved. As workplaces often do for Easter or Christmas, you can embrace the tradition and encourage inclusion by arranging an Iftar one night after work or by treating your team to a lunch out at Eid. This helps bring employees together and promotes an inclusive and understanding working environment.