Holly Navarro: Supporting Muslim staff during Ramadan

RamadanIn today’s richly diverse society, employers must demonstrate an understanding of the cultural variances of employees, and foster an inclusive working environment, ensuring multi-faith workforces are listened to and respected. An openness to making reasonable adjustments during this time will help improve employee satisfaction and embed inclusivity and diversity within the workplace.

The holy month of Ramadan, an Islamic festival observed by Muslims across the globe, began on 22 March. While some Muslims may opt to take time off work during Ramadan, many are likely to continue working throughout this period. To support those employees observing Ramadan, employers need to understand what this time might involve, especially the challenges they may face.

Employers should demonstrate awareness of the needs and concerns of employees observing Ramadan by having discussions to identify what, if any, additional support staff may need while working. There are a number of approaches to observing, or not observing, Ramadan, and awareness is very much key to ensure the appropriate support is put in place.

Employers should approach conversations in a respectful way and frame discussions openly, inviting employees to let them know if there is anything they can do to help or accommodate them during this period.

They should also anticipate the need to be flexible in order to respect differing working patterns. Those observing Ramadan will be waking up before sunrise to have their first meal of the day and staying up late for prayers. These employees will inevitably have disturbed sleeping patterns, so employers should try to introduce a flexible approach where possible, and be open to employees adjusting their working hours.

For example, to minimise the impact of fatigue, employers could allow employees to amend their start and finish times, or to shorten their lunch break to allow for regular breaks during the day, while remaining mindful of minimum breaks under the Working Time Regulations 1998.

Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, and many Muslims will use this time to engage in prayers throughout the day. If employers do not already have a dedicated multi-faith area, they should discuss with employees what facilities they may require and identify a space which can be used at certain times of the day without interruption. This should then be made known to all employees.

Employers may see an increase in the number of requests for annual leave over Ramadan, particularly towards the end when celebrations begin for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival to mark the end of Ramadan, which is expected to take place on either Friday 21 April or Saturday 22 April.

As the start of Eid al-Fitr is dependent on the sighting of a new moon at the end of Ramadan, it can be difficult to predict the date accurately in advance and employees may not know exactly when they need to request time off, so requests may be made at short notice. Employers should deal with requests fairly and in a flexible manner, in line with their existing annual leave policy.

Holly Navarro is an employment law solicitor at Primas Law