Ramadan is considered the holy month in the Islamic calendar which Muslims dedicate to God. Ramadan started on 22 March this year and will last for 30 days, ending with 1-3 days of celebration called Eid al-Fitr. Ramadan is very much a time of spiritual growth and self-discipline for Muslims whereby they undertake fasting (called sawm) during daylight, give up bad habits, and spend extra time praying, reflecting and reading the Quran.
Fasting can be particularly strenuous on Muslim employees as eating and drinking (including water) occurs from sunset to dawn only. This therefore impacts their normal daily routine significantly as they go to bed late and are up early to eat/drink after the sun goes down and before the sun rises.
To ensure Muslim employees are supported during Ramadan, there are some key things employers can do to help them and other staff to encourage inclusion within the workplace.
- Inform staff and raise awareness
Most employees will have heard of Ramadan but they may not know what happens during that period and why it is an important part of Muslim culture. A good starting point is to send an internal email or to have an informal discussion with staff giving them brief details of what Ramadan is and how it may affect their Muslim colleagues whilst at work. One of the main issues within workplaces is a lack of communication which can lead to rumours and prejudice against certain employees. Having open conversations on subjects such as Ramadan can encourage employees to ask questions which helps to foster better relationships between staff. As with others who practice religion, Muslims are immensely proud and dedicated to their faith and are happy to talk about their culture and faith with others. Having open conversations also helps to avoid employees making faux pas such as offering food or drink to Muslim employees whilst they are fasting. Some Muslims are exempt from fasting because of illness or pregnancy so again it’s important that employees are discouraged from gossiping or making insensitive comments towards their co-workers because of ignorance.
- Consider timings of meetings
It’s important to understand the impact fasting can have on concentration and energy levels for those employees. Energy levels can dwindle as the day progresses so it’s a good idea to schedule any meetings with employees in the morning when they are feeling the most energised and alert.
- Flexible hours
Employers should be as flexible as possible when it comes to employees’ working hours during Ramadan. Of course, some jobs will not allow this but, where they can, employers should accept flexibility around break times or start/finish times of Muslim employees. As mentioned above, communication is key to a good workplace culture and employers should speak to employees to explain why an employee has been allowed to temporarily alter their hours. This will help to discourage animosity towards Muslim employees and encourage inclusivity.
Employers should ensure all staff receive training on diversity, equity and inclusion. Training should be ongoing, particularly for managers, so they are equipped to deal with any issues that may arise which may lead to disciplinary action being taken against an employee who is found to have breached any relevant policy in place.
In summary, employers should encourage open conversations with employees, allow flexibility (where possible) and provide up to date training for all employees on diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition, employers should ensure their employee handbook and policies are up to date (e.g. diversity, equity and inclusion, and anti-bullying and harassment policies) so that employees understand the relevant procedures that are in place to protect them.
If you require any further information or advice in relation to the above, please contact a member of the Employment and HR Team.
Disclaimer: this post has been produced for Napthens’ website blog and does not constitute legal advice.