As we approach the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, Musab Hemsi – a director at Anderson Strathern specialising in employment law – has set out some suggestions on how employers should prepare to support employees who wish to observe it, and indeed religious festivals generally.

This is an updated version of an article originally published in the Journal

If the past two years have shown us anything, it is the power of togetherness. We have adapted and sacrificed for one another. We have adopted collective behaviour and demonstrated personal discipline. As a community we have supported those in need or less fortunate than ourselves.

The holy month of Ramadhan commences around the 2nd of April 2022. This is an Islamic festival which is observed by Muslims across the globe. Ramadhan lasts for a lunar month, and during this time many Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during hours of daylight.

There is more to fasting than may first appear. Muslims also adopt a mindset of caring for those in their community, supplying cooked food and essentials to those who struggle to provide for themselves. They pray for and support their neighbours. They pay fitrana for every member of their household: money to support charitable causes.

Whilst some Muslims typically seek to take time off work during Ramadhan, many are likely to continue working during the month if they are able.

Fasting may affect productivity and concentration levels as well as increasing fatigue. It is important for employers to understand the challenges facing their employees during this time.

Employers can seek to support their employees who are observing this festival.

1. Accommodate flexible working

ACAS guidance and the Equality & Human Rights Commission code of practice suggest adopting a practical approach and discussing with the employee whether there are any temporary arrangements which could be put in place for the duration of Ramadhan.

One way in which to do this is to offer employees who are observing Ramadhan the option to work flexibly, this could involve:

  • holding meetings at more suitable times during the day
  • arranging working hours differently for the month – some staff may wish to start their day earlier or later, or work through their lunch hours

2. Rest breaks

Individuals observing the festival should be encouraged to take rest breaks where needed. They may also wish to practise their faith more during Ramadhan than they do at other times of the year and employers should be sensitive to this, and try to accommodate requests to take more breaks during the day than would ordinarily be taken.

3. Annual leave requests

Employers may find that there is a high demand for annual leave from those who are observing the festival, particularly during the end of Ramadhan which is marked by the festival of Eid. It is difficult for employees to plan in advance, because Ramadhan is based on the lunar calendar, so annual leave requests may be made at short notice.

Employers should ensure that they deal with annual leave requests in a fair manner and in line with the annual leave policy. Where it is not possible to grant leave, employers should provide reasoned, rational justifications for the refusal. In addition, where annual leave requests are granted for those observing the festival, employers should ensure that other employees do not suffer any detriment as a result.

4. Awareness, tolerance and understanding

Values such as awareness, tolerance and understanding are the cornerstone of nurturing a healthy employer/employee relationship. Employees will feel valued where employers try to understand what is important to them, whether that is in relation to their faith or otherwise.

Employers could introduce a clear policy on Ramadhan, or better yet, on religious festivals generally, setting out what the expected employee standards are, and what employees observing religious festivals can expect in terms of support. Having such a policy should have an affirming impact on employees.

Some employers go a step further and proactively engage in recognising religious festivals with their workforce.

Being an open, accepting and considerate employer where you can show yourself as progressive in your thinking and approach will no doubt have a positive impact on the ethos of your organisation, and will help to ensure that you continue to attract a diverse and balanced workforce.

More information on this year's Ramadhan timetable can be found here.

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