Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims and marks the 9th month of the Islamic year when Muslims fast each day from sunrise until sunset.
Fasting presents a challenge for Muslims who strive to fulfil their religious obligations, as well as continue with their modern lives. But it is also a time when employers need to be aware of what Ramadan entails and how it could impact on their businesses.
With the start of Ramadan today (6 June), Simon Bond, an employment expert with West Midlands’ law firm Higgs & Sons, offers some advice and guidance on how best to support employees during this time.
Educating your workforce
As an employer, you may want to consider a communication to all staff on Ramadan to ensure that there are no misconceptions or misunderstandings that might inadvertently lead to breaches of your anti-bullying and harassment and equal opportunity policies. This will allow all staff to approach the subject with the required respect and sensitivity.
Observing employees may prefer to use the majority of their entitlement during Ramadan and you may receive a particularly large amount of requests for the three day Eid festival, which is celebrated at the end of the month.
During this time, employees will be entitled to annual leave in the usual way, and will have to comply with your holiday request procedures. If you cannot accommodate the request due to shortages of staff or because there is a particular business need for the individual’s attendance at work, you need to explain to the employee why their request has not been approved.
Shift change requests
You may also receive requests from observing employees to change their shifts or have a longer break time, to ensure they have time to pray during Ramadan. It may be better for the needs of the business to accommodate these requests in the interests of productivity and health and safety. All requests should be dealt with and explored through discussions with the employee about the reasons for the request and the ways that the business might be able to accommodate it. If you refuse the request, there must be clear and identifiable business reasons and alternatives should be considered.
Examples of temporary changes that you can make are:
Altering shifts so that they start earlier and finish earlier
Moving important meetings and training events to earlier parts of the day when energy and concentration levels will be higher
Considering accepting requests from employees not to attend working lunches and all day conferences
Failure to give proper consideration to such requests may result in the employee claiming discrimination. It is important to treat every request seriously and keep written records of requests, discussions and the business needs engaged in attempting to accommodate requests.
Reduced productivity levels
Due to the long hours of fasting with no food or drink, employers may be concerned that the energy and productivity levels of their employees may be reduced, particularly towards the end of the day.
If you have concerns about productivity levels of an observing employee during this time and wish to take disciplinary action, you should proceed with extra caution and consider taking legal advice.
The importance for your business
Ultimately, this guidance is useful in how to deal with not only your employees, but also your customers, clients and suppliers during the month of Ramadan. Making an effort to understand and accommodate the experiences of those observing will show good management, help maintain performance and morale, and strengthen those relationships.
It is important to remember that early communication and preparation is key to managing your business during Ramadan. To assist preparation, HR and managers should review their equal opportunities, flexible working, and anti-harassment and bullying policies well in advance, so that they can be ready to deal confidently with any requests or issues.
ACAS have produced guidance on key workplace considerations during Ramadan and other religious festivals which can be found here: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4868.
Higgs & Sons boasts more than 100 specialist lawyers at its office on the Waterfront Business Park in Brierley Hill. For specialist advice for your business relating to employment, contact Simon on 0845 111 5050 or email email@example.com