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Observing Ramadan

This year Ramadan begins at sunset on 6th or 7th June (it differs for different Muslim groups) and will continue for 30 days. The last ten days and nights of Ramadan are of particular importance and those observing the rite may wish to increase the time spent in worship and take time off.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is said that the Quran was sent to the lowest heaven being prepared for gradual revelation to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The final part of these revelations happened during Ramadan so for many Muslims this is the holiest month of the year. It is marked by a period of purification with five obligations described in the Islamic texts. These are fasting, giving alms, pilgrimage to Mecca, declaration of faith and five daily prayers.

Muslims will fast during daytime hours. This means no eating or drinking (not even water) from dawn to dusk. The lack of food during daytime hours when energy is being used can have an impact on concentration levels, reaction times, alertness etc. and can therefore impact on an employee’s performance at work. This can be more of an issue in the workplace when Ramadan falls during summer when the days are much longer.

This year there is concern about the timing for Muslim students who are observing Ramadan but may also be sitting important exams and there has been debate about the propriety of fasting in these circumstances.

Taking a flexible approach to working hours and time off during a time when religious activities place demands on employees is helpful (many religions include optional fasting for purposes of purification). Fasting can be a particular issue for those who use machinery, do a lot of driving or otherwise need to have high concentration levels. Dehydration impairs concentration and can cause dizziness, so if possible schedule those who are fasting on the early shift so they can work after having recently eaten, or on the night shift so they can get plenty of rest in the early part of the day and take a break after sunset. During Ramadan many Muslims like to start work earlier, miss or reduce lunch breaks, and get home so they can end the day's fast with their families.

There is no automatic right to time off for religious festivals or to work particular hours because of religious festivals. If allowing time off or changing working hours will adversely affect your business you do not have to grant it. You should look reasonably at requests for annual leave, unpaid time leave and time off to pray and do what you can to accommodate them. If employees would like time off to pray consider whether you have somewhere suitable where the employee is able to do this.

Give thought to when fasting employees will take meal breaks. For example during Ramadan Muslim employees are likely to want to take their break at sunset which is when they are allowed to break their daily fast. It would be unreasonable to schedule meetings for this time if it is possible to make alternative arrangements.

Accommodating religious practice does not mean giving extra time off. It is about being flexible within existing holiday entitlement or break periods where possible. Speak to all staff together and get input from everyone. You may be able to get a compromise from all staff to support one another. For example Muslim staff may want to work early shifts during Ramadan but may in return be happy to work late or weekend shifts over religious occasions for other beliefs. For example, Christians wishing to take time at Easter or Christmas.

Be careful about organising work social gatherings during Ramadan. Many Muslims avoid areas where there is food or drink while at work, and during the evening they are likely to be at home and with family observing the religious festival. Therefore, if you do hold social team events during Ramadan, understand that many Muslim staff might refuse the invitation.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need advice on how to deal with issues affecting religious employees or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.

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