The Muslim holy month of Ramadan began in the UK this year on Sunday 5 May and will last until Tuesday 4 June. The exact dates depend upon the lunar cycle and so these change every year.

During Ramadan most Muslims fast from sunrise until sunset. The elderly, children, those who are ill and pregnant women are exempt. The festival of Eid-al-Fitr celebrates the end of Ramadan.

There are workplace issues which can arise for Muslim employees as a result of observing Ramadan. Our checklist below is intended to help employers and employees navigate some of the potential problems.

  • For those who have to work during Ramadan, the physical effects of fasting can be challenging. Employers have a duty to take care of all employees’ health and safety, this covers both physical and mental health. Therefore they should ideally be carrying out risk assessments for those observing Ramadan and, where necessary, putting in place measures to ensure the safety of Muslim employees and their work colleagues. This will of course vary depending upon the nature of the employer’s business and the roles being carried out.
  • Towards the end of the day, when Muslim employees have not had food or water since dawn, their concentration and productivity is likely to be lower than normal. Individuals should not be performance managed as a result and managers should be made aware that unduly criticising an employee who suffers as a result of fasting, could lead to claims for religious discrimination or even constructive dismissal.
  • Employers should be willing to re-schedule complex meetings or difficult tasks to the morning when the energy levels of employees observing Ramadan may be higher.
  • Alternatively, employers should consider allowing flexible hours or remote working arrangements.
  • Given the importance placed on prayer during Ramadan, Muslim employees may wish to take rest breaks throughout the day to pray. Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 it is only necessary to grant one 20 minute rest break where the working day is more than six hours (in most circumstances). However, employers should approach requests for additional prayer breaks sensitively and should think creatively about accommodating requests where at all possible.
  • Employers may be able to reduce the time that Muslim employees need to be away from work by setting aside a dedicated prayer room on the premises for the duration of Ramadan.
  • There are no public holidays in the UK  for non-Christian days. Muslim employees will want to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and so employers will need to deal with authorising requests for annual leave. This should be dealt with in accordance with an employer’s usual procedure.
  • Where holiday requests are because of Ramadan/Eid al-Fitr, the request should not be dismissed out of hand simply because it is a busy period or others already have holiday booked.
  • Full consideration should be given by the employer to the practicability of accommodating the request.
  • 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 but, employers should act reasonably and have a fair system for granting leave that does not put employees of any particular religion or belief (or those who do not hold any religious beliefs) at a disadvantage.
  • What is reasonable will depend on the size of the employer, its resources and the number of employees requesting leave at the same time. Compromise might be necessary such as turning down the request but, putting the employee to the top of the queue for next year.
  • If there are large numbers of Muslims in the workforce, it may be more practical for the employer to close down altogether on the relevant day and require everyone in the business to take that time as holiday.
  • Employers are liable for discrimination and harassment (including on the grounds of religion or belief) by their employees. It is therefore in employers’ best interest to make sure all their employees understand what is involved for those observing this holy period and the potential impact of Ramadan on the workplace.

Read more

Ben Power’s employer’s guide to Ramadan was published in People Management on 9 May 2019.


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