Ramadan and COVID-19
Due to current social distancing guidelines, Muslims face a very different Ramadan this year.
The holy month of Ramadan has commenced for Muslims around the world. It’s expected to last until 23 May. Ramadan involves fasting, so during daylight hours many Muslims abstain from eating and drinking (including water). Those observing Ramadan are also encouraged to focus on worship, increase charitable giving and to strengthen family bonds. However due to current social distancing guidelines, Muslims face a very different Ramadan this year.
Muslims observing Ramadan receive protection from religion or belief discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. In some circumstances, employees may also be protected from discrimination if they are associated with someone who holds particular religious beliefs (for example, if they have a Muslim partner). Similarly, job applicants are protected from discrimination, so recruiting employers should consider reasonable requests made by Muslim applicants during this time.
The UK workforce has been advised to work from home where possible during the pandemic. This may benefit fasting Muslim employees, but they may also face new challenges. Employers should be open to flexible working requests, for example adjusted start/finish times, as those observing Ramadan may feel less productive towards the end of the day. Employers should encourage fasting employees to take regular breaks when needed. Similarly, employers could allow time for afternoon prayers at home, or for employees unable to work from home, offer them quiet spaces for worship. They could also encourage employees to virtually share their Ramadan experience with colleagues at appropriate times.
Employers should consider asking Muslim employees if they need support or adjustments during the fast and they should be mindful that some may suffer from tiredness, poor concentration and headaches. This may lead to decreased performance levels, although many Muslims are adept at coping with the demands of the fast. Employers should also expect holiday requests to increase during the period or in anticipation for Eid (the celebration at end of Ramadan). As the date for Eid is governed by the lunar calendar, employees may not be specific about dates. Employers should be alert to Eid’s significance and how emotionally challenging this year’s Eid may be for some, as social distancing measures are likely to remain in place.
Ramadan can be a challenging time for Muslim employees. It may be especially challenging due to the pandemic as Muslims generally come together to share the experience. Employers could use this time to reflect on their existing religion and belief policies and creative ways to cultivate religious diversity in the workplace.
Useful guidance from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) on observing Ramadan in lockdown is available online here.
Adele Shortman is a Principal Associate in the Employment, Pensions and Immigration team. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact Adele at firstname.lastname@example.org, Bea Wadsworth at email@example.com or speak to your usual Weightmans advisor.