This year, Ramadan began on 22nd March 2023 for many individuals of the Islamic faith. Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast for around 30 days. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr which is a religious holiday whereby people celebrate the end of their period of fasting and their accomplishments during Ramadan.
Why is this relevant to you as an employer?
Last minute holiday requests
As the date of the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr depends on the sighting of the moon, employees will often not know in advance the date on which Eid ul-Fitr will fall. This year it is expected that Eid ul-Fitr will fall on Thursday, 20th April or Friday, 21st April. As Eid ul-Fitr is not currently recognised as a public holiday in the UK, you may find that employees submit last minute holiday requests to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr.
Whilst employers do have the right to refuse a holiday request if it cannot be accommodated due to business reasons or if the timing of the request does not follow the requirements as laid out in the employer’s holiday policy, we would encourage employers to be flexible where possible to accommodate last minute holiday requests made by those employees celebrating Eid ul-Fitr. Employers should, therefore, allow for deviation from their usual holiday policy which may require employees to book holidays in advance.
Some employers may already have a policy in place in relation to religious holidays. This can help manage employee expectations and therefore, it is advisable that employers review their internal policies and update these to ensure they confirm how requests for holidays to observe religious events will be dealt with and confirm that they will, where possible, be flexible to accommodate such holiday requests.
If employees, for whatever reason, have insufficient holidays to cover their absence for the requested religious holiday, we would encourage employers to consider granting a period of unpaid leave for the religious holiday.
To prevent a last-minute flurry of holiday requests, we would recommend that employers open up a line of communication with their employees and encourage employees to let their managers know if they are planning on requesting Eid ul-Fitr as annual leave, which may assist employers in planning their workforce and arranging cover, if required. This approach will show that the employer is supportive of those employees who wish to observe the religious holiday and will provide the employer with an estimated number of employees who may request a holiday on the 20th or 21st of April so provisions can be put in place to cover the workload.
Flexibility for employees
If an employer cannot accommodate time off for an employee due to genuine business reasons or an employee has not requested time off but, nevertheless, celebrates Eid ul-Fitr as a religious holiday, it’s important that the employer considers how it can be flexible. The employer may wish to consider providing:
- Flexibility as to the employee’s start time. Allowing a late start will allow employees to attend morning prayers.
- Flexibility as to the employee’s finish time. Allowing an early finish will allow employees to attend Eid ul-Fitr celebrations with friends and family.
- Flexibility as to break times. Allowing flexibility with breaks will allow the employee to conduct their prayers throughout the day.
- A quiet and appropriate place for employees to carry out their prayers whilst at their place of work.
This is a great opportunity for employers to encourage staff engagement, to educate staff and to improve their understanding of different religions across the workforce. If the business usually celebrates religious holidays such as Easter or Christmas, now would be a good time to consider what you can do as a business to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, and other religious holidays, to ensure inclusivity.
However, it is important that employers do not assume an employee is or is not of the Islamic faith. Therefore, we would recommend that any communications sent in relation to Ramadan or Eid ul-Fitr are sent to the whole workforce.
In conclusion, it is best practice for employers to:
- Agree to last minute requests for holidays or unpaid leave where possible;
- Allow for flexibility amongst the workforce; and
- Communicate openly with all employees.
We would encourage employers to adopt the above as best practice. We would also encourage employers to maintain a consistent approach to support members of staff who are observing a religious holiday to ensure that the business is not discriminating against members of staff who wish to observe religious holidays.