This year's period of Ramadan started on 28 June and will continue for thirty days ending on 27 July. The ninth month lunar calendar is marked by Muslims all over the world by fasting from dawn to sunset for the period of a month which is mainly associated with abstaining from the consumption of food, drink and cigarettes during daylight hours.
So what should you do to accommodate your employees’ religious beliefs? We’ve compiled a list of questions we’re often asked in relation to dealing with religious holidays.
How can I support my Muslim employees through Ramadan?
It would be helpful if all staff are made aware of when Ramadan is, how long it lasts, and what the fasting entails. It may be reasonable to allow a temporary change in working hours, subject to business need and continuity. Make sure you consider requests for annual leave reasonably and be mindful of breakfast or lunch meetings.
Take a look at the Working Muslim Guide to Ramadhan for Employers and provide copies of the employee guide to your Muslim employees so that they are able to plan ahead.
Do employers have to observe religious holidays?
If an employee wants to take a day off in observance of a religious holiday or festival, employers should try to accommodate this if it does not impede the business. Otherwise, a refusal may amount to unjustified indirect discrimination.
Clear and robust policies handling leave requests should be in place and applied equally to all staff. Staff should give as much notice as possible of a holiday request and be aware that the employer may not always be able to accommodate it.
Given the Summer months are always popular for employees to take annual leave, it is advisable to remind employees at the start of the year to submit their annual leave requests as early as possible, so as to avoid disappointment by leaving it to the last minute.
Do employers have to provide prayer facilities?
There are no specific obligations under the Act to provide facilities such as a prayer room for workers who want to practise their religion. However, if am employees ask for a quiet place to pray and the Company can accommodate the request without a significant adverse impact on the business or other staff, then it is hard to see how a refusal by an employer could be justified.
I am concerned about productivity levels for the Muslim employees that are fasting – is there anything I can do?
Good communication is key. If you are aware that an employee is planning to fast for this period, it is a good idea to meet with the employee in advance to discuss whether there are any appropriate measures which might curtail any disturbance to their performance or to that of the business. It might be worth considering altering shifts so that they start earlier and finish earlier or moving any important meetings or events to the earlier part of the day.
More caution is required if the employee is carrying out a manual job where a lack of concentration could have health and safety implications. It is advisable to conduct a t risk assessment to see if there are any risks to the current plan proposed by the employee. Alternatively, you could discuss with the employee that he may wish to take annual leave, or unpaid leave.
If I say no to the employee’s requests in connection with Ramadan, will I face a claim of discrimination?
The Equality Act does not say that employers must give time off for religious festivals. However, you should consider whether your policies, rules and procedures indirectly discriminate against staff of particular religions or beliefs and, if so, whether reasonable changes can be made.
In order to successfully defend any claim of religion or belief discrimination the employer would need to show that genuine consideration has been given to the employee’s request and legitimate attempts have been made to accommodate them. It is advisable to keep a note of all requests and discussions with employees.