Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is a period of prayer, fasting, charity giving and self-accountability for Muslims. This year Ramadan begins on 6th June and lasts for one month ending on 7th July. Ramadan and in particular the observation of the fast from sunrise until sunset is particularly difficult during the summer period due to the long and often warm days. We take a look at the issues employers may want to consider in order to support their employees during this religious period.
There is no specific entitlement to time off for religious periods or festivals. Employees should comply with your usual annual leave policy in booking time off. In light of the fact that Ramadan falls over the summer period, which is very popular for holidays for all employees, you may want to remind all staff of the need to book holiday at the earliest opportunity to ensure the request is granted. A clear application process applied consistently should avoid allegations of unfairness or discrimination.
Whilst the flexible working process applicable to all employees is really aimed at permanent changes to working patterns, you may find that using your policy and application process for any requests made for a temporary change is a straightforward and clear means of ensuring fairness, especially if you have multiple requests. You may find that there are requests for flexible working not just to observe the fast but also to undertake charity work. Try to find a compromise to accommodate as many employees as possible without impacting too heavily on performance of the team.
In addition, you may have concerns regarding productivity of your employees who will be fasting throughout the working day and want to be proactive in your approach to considering and suggesting flexibility. Sitting down with employees and discussing their plans to fast and suggesting flexible working options, will help to reach a compromise that supports the employee and allows the business to continue to run smoothly. You could consider moving team or other meetings to morning slots when energy is likely to be at the highest or change working hours to start slightly earlier and work through lunch to finish early.
It is not your responsibility to dictate a food and drink policy for employees not observing the fast during this period of time. However, to ensure that you are promoting a diverse workforce and an understanding amongst all your employees of this cultural and religious period, you may want to avoid holding lunches or other events during the day at which employees are expected to entertain clients or participate in networking events.
Health and Safety
In some specific roles you are likely to be concerned that the concentration of your employee will be affected by the fast during working hours, especially employees who are responsible for driving or operating heavy machinery. You should undertake a short risk assessment and meet with the employee to discuss the work and any adjustments which should be made during this period.
A disgruntled employee whose application for leave or flexible hours is refused may try to argue that you have discriminated against him or her because of religion.
You should ensure that you have a clear and consistent policy for dealing with leave and flexible working and you can show through your paper trail that you have applied that policy fairly and objectively.
Do keep a written record of any such requests, discussions and outcome to establish your business reason.