The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has now commenced and is due to last until 7 July. Ramadan is deemed to be the most sacred month of the year. As there are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide it is therefore likely that you may encounter a friend or work colleague who is observing Ramadan.
During Ramadan Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. This year Ramadan falls during some of the longest days in the year – in the UK Muslims will be fasting from around 4am until 9pm everyday, which means 17 hours of not eating or drinking everyday. In light of this, employers and colleagues may need to show more sensitivity towards their Muslim employees and colleagues during this period. The following points may assist with this:
1. Show sensitivity – refrain from unduly criticising or penalising low productivity levels due to fasting. Indeed, an Employment Tribunal has previously held that comments made to a Muslim employee criticising her for reduced productivity due to fasting amounted to direct religious discrimination and harassment.
2. Annual leave requests – there may be a spike in annual leave requests for the celebrations which occur during Ramadan, particularly for Eid at the end of the month. Remember that whilst it may be impracticable to grant each request, it may be discriminatory to refuse annual leave requests for time off for religious reasons.
3. Be more flexible – consider:
- altering shifts to start earlier and finish earlier;
- scheduling meetings and events in the mornings when energy levels are likely to be higher and not asking employees to commit to evening functions as the evenings are likely to be dedicated to breaking their fast, prayers and family gatherings;
- encouraging employees to take regular breaks, especially if they start lacking energy
- allowing breaks at sunset for Muslims to break their fast; and
- being sensitive regarding food – refrain from eating at desks next to Muslim colleagues and save food in the office canteen for Muslim workers to break their fast at the end of the day.
Ramadan can also be a good opportunity for gaining greater understanding about your colleagues and employees through learning more about this part of their lives. It can also be used to improve team dynamics, such as by throwing Eid Al-Fitr celebrations, which is a three day celebration at the end of Ramadan.
Samantha Prosser is a solicitor at leading senior executive employment law firm BDBF.