The holy month of Ramadan officially started in the UK on 17 May 2018 and is predicted to end on 14 June, subject to confirmation of the official sighting of the new moon. We consider some practical considerations for Muslim employees and their employers during this time.
Ramadan is the four week period during which Muslims fast daily, pray and give to charity each year. Its observance is a fundamental part of the Islamic faith which culminates with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.
Energy levels, concentration and productivity of Muslim employees who are fasting are likely to be affected, particularly towards the end of the day, as employees will have consumed no food or water since dawn.
Management need to be aware
Managers should be made aware of the possible effects of fasting to ensure both that affected employees stay safe but also in relation to managing performance. Unduly penalising or criticising an employee who suffers as a result of fasting, could lead to complaints of religious discrimination or even constructive dismissal.
What should employers do?
Flexible working arrangements for Muslim employees during Ramadan should be considered, where possible. This need not mean allowing people to work different hours but could be very simple, such as arranging for lengthy or complex meetings or difficult tasks to be scheduled in the morning when the energy levels of employees observing Ramadan may be higher.
Particular importance is placed on prayer during Ramadan so there may be more requests from Muslim employees to take breaks during the working day to rest or to pray. It might be helpful for employers to set aside a room for prayer during this time.
Ultimately, business requirements will determine how much latitude an employer can grant but employers should think creatively about accommodating requests where at all possible. Note that under the Working Time Regulations 1998 only one 20 minute rest break must be provided if the working day is more than six hours (generally).
It is likely that there will be high demand for annual leave from Muslim employees to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and the question of whether to authorise such requests should be dealt with in accordance with an employer’s usual procedure. However, where there are a large number of Muslim employees who want to take the same time off it may not be possible to accommodate everyone due to the needs of the business.
What is reasonable will depend on the size of the employer, its resources and the number of employees requesting leave at the same time.
Where requests are made that are linked to time off for Ramadan/Eid al-Fitr, employers need to ensure that full consideration is given to the practicability of accommodating the request and that it is not dismissed out of hand simply because it is a busy period or others already have holiday booked.
If, after consideration, an employer needs to refuse a request on genuine business grounds it should handle this sensitively and seek to reach a compromise with the individual where possible, for example, by putting the employee to the top of the list for next year.
Employers can be vicariously liable for the discriminatory acts of their employees so it will be in their best interest to inform and educate all employees about what is involved for employees observing this holy time and the potential impact of Ramadan on the workplace.