Fasting and feasting: supporting Muslim Employees during Ramadan and Eid-Al-Fitr
For some employees, Ramadan will have little impact but for others Ramadan may greatly impact on their work.
Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a period of 29 or 30 days (dependent on the lunar calendar) and the precise timing varies each year. This year Ramadan falls between 5 May and 4 June. The end of Ramadan is marked with the celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr (Festival of breaking the fast).
Observing Ramadan is regarded as one of the five pillars of Islam (Sawm). During Ramadan most Muslims (there are exceptions for the young, elderly and infirm) will fast from sunrise to sunset. It is also a time for prayer and reflection and increased charity work.
For some employees, Ramadan will have little impact but for others Ramadan may greatly impact on their work. Employers should therefore give some consideration to the following:
- Encouraging employees who are observing Ramadan to inform their manager in advance. Fasting may result in tiredness (especially in the afternoon) and irritability for some, which can be better understood and accommodated (where appropriate) if discussed in advance. Employees could also be encouraged to inform their colleagues.
- Scheduling important tasks or jobs for the mornings where possible, so as to avoid periods such as the afternoon when fasting employees may be tired or less focused.
- Amending working hours or patterns of work where this can reasonably be accommodated.
- Being flexible with break times to enable the observance of prayers and/or employees to eat and drink after sunset or simply to take a break where fatigue is an issue.
- Encouraging employees who wish to take holidays during Ramadan or Eid to request these as early as possible, especially where Ramadan falls within traditional holiday periods.
- Try to avoid eating food with a strong smell or drinking around employees who are fasting, or asking if they want any drinks.
- Whether risks assessments are necessary where employees are using machinery or undertaking safety critical activities or similar, and concentration may be adversely impacted by fasting. Employers have a duty to take care for the health and safety of their employees and restrictions may be necessary to comply with this duty.
- Avoiding scheduling meetings or events where food is provided.
- Raising awareness of religious festivals generally so that colleagues have a greater understanding.
- Discussing with employees whether any adjustments would be welcome or helpful. The requirements are likely to vary from employee to employee and depending on their role.
These are by no means prescriptive and are only some suggestions for how your organisation may wish to approach the potential impact of Ramadan in your workplace.
Employers must not treat employees less favourably because of their religion or belief. Refusing a request because of Ramadan (for example refusing an employee time off because it is to observe Ramadan or celebrate Eid when other employees are allowed time off because it is Christmas) or imposing a requirement which adversely impacts on Muslim employees which cannot be justified (such as a requirement to work particular hours) may amount to discrimination and result in a claim against the organisation.
Employers should therefore carefully consider requests from employees which are related to their religion or belief and give some thought to the impact of the organisation’s activities or requirements on those who have particular religious or other beliefs. The successful defence of a claim for discrimination frequently depends on an employer’s ability to demonstrate that it legitimately considered the request and whether it could be accommodated. Decisions should therefore always be taken after careful consideration of all the facts and issues and the discussion, decision and rationale recorded in writing.
If this raises any issues for your organisation please speak to your usual contact in the Weightmans Employment, Pensions and Immigration team or contact Claire Hollins.