Ramadan in the Workplace

Sheila Fahy

Next week marks the start of Ramadan. For Muslims across the world, a month of fasting each day from sunrise to sunset begins. During this period, which can be anything up to 18 hours per day, they are prohibited from consuming any food or drink (even water). As there are approximately 3 million Muslims in the UK, this will undoubtedly have an impact in the workplace.

What employers need to know

Planning RamadanRamadan

The period of Ramadan changes each year, as the Islamic calendar is lunar-based and depends on astronomical calculations and a sighting of the new moon. This makes it difficult for workers to plan leave in advance.

Holidays

Expect to receive requests for annual leave for some/all of this period at short notice. While employers should try to accommodate holiday requests for religious observance, care does need to be exercised so that employees from other religions or without religion are not disadvantaged, as this in itself may lead to an indirect discrimination claim on the basis that some workers are being treated more favourably when it comes to holiday requests.

After 29 or 30 days, Ramadan comes to an end with Eid al-Fitr, a day of celebration. It is common practice for Muslims who have observed the month of Ramadan to request annual leave for this day. Again, these requests may be last minute due to timing uncertainty. As always, consider these on a case-by-case basis and in line with your policy on holidays and religious observance days.

Flexible working

Requests for temporary flexible working arrangements may also be received at short notice. Consider these requests expeditiously, subject always to business needs on a case-by-case basis. Document your decision-making process.

Prayer

Muslims are required to pray on five occasions at set times each day, two of which are likely to fall within a standard working day. This is unlikely to have a significant impact on either resources or performance, as most employers already have a designated multi-faith prayer room. Furthermore, the majority of employees take breaks throughout the course of a working day, so additional time off will not be required for prayer.

Scheduling social events

Try not to schedule client entertaining and team social events during Ramadan, or any of the significant religious holidays. This will not always be possible, but it pays dividends to be sensitive to these issues when planning.

Comments published on Employment Talk do not necessarily reflect the views of Allen & Overy.

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