Advice for employers about being inclusive to Muslim employees during Ramadan

Ramadan is a big part of Islamic identity, and employers should support observant staff

This year, the holy month of Ramadan will begin on 2 April and run until 1 May – although the exact timing of the festival can vary by a few days on either side. Today, employers must be aware of how they can be more inclusive to Muslim staff during Ramadan.

Observed by Muslims around the globe, the aim of Ramadan is to grow spiritually and become closer to God, humanity and loved ones. To do this, people are required to fast during daylight hours, from sunrise to sunset – although those who are unwell, the elderly, pregnant women and children are exempt from fasting.

Islam is now the second-largest religion in the UK, with more than three million practising members, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Therefore, employers need to ensure they’re aware of how observing Ramadan may affect their workers, consider ways to support them, and minimise the chances of opening themselves up to potential discrimination or harassment claims.

If it is possible to do so, employers should consider allowing those observing Ramadan to work from home or do flexible hours to allow them to work the times they feel most productive. Meanwhile, for those in more physically demanding jobs or who work shifts, employers should also consider whether duties or working practices can be amended on a temporary basis during Ramadan. Muslim employees may also wish to take rest breaks throughout the working day to pray. Legally, one 20-minute break every six hours is mandatory under the Working Time Regulations 1998. However, employers should be considerate and sensitive to allowing break times to be split into smaller ones, such as at lunch, or for additional break times during this period if practical.

A special emphasis is put on prayer during the holy month, although Muslims may pray five times a day all year round. This highlights the need for a designated area on the premises to allow those who wish to pray a clean and quiet space, if logistically possible.

Ramadan culminates in the festival of Eid-al-Fitr, which is celebrated the day after Ramadan ends.. There are no public holidays in the UK for non-Christian days, but employers should be considerate of the fact that Muslim employees will want to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, and any annual leave requests should be dealt with in accordance with the usual company procedure. Requests should always be carefully considered and not dismissed simply because others are already on leave or due to a busy period for the business.

However, if multiple Muslim employees want to take the same time off, it may not be practical to accommodate all of the holiday requests, due to the needs of the business and the inability to reorganise work among existing staff. In this scenario, employers should act reasonably and have a fair system to allow as many employees to take part in festivities as possible. Communication is an incredibly important part of this process, to ensure all workers are kept in the loop with the rationale behind decisions and, if a compromise is required, that this is conveyed clearly.

Employers should always observe and comply with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. In doing so, it may be advisable to introduce a company-based policy around religious holidays that caters for time off for observances of other religions. It is worth bearing in mind that refusal to grant employees time off for religious holidays could amount to indirect discrimination. 

It is also advisable for employers to carefully consider whether they should performance manage their workers during the holiday, as employees may be impacted by the fasting they’re undertaking. Managers should be aware that criticising an employee whose performance dips as a result of fasting could lead to claims of religious discrimination.

There is even the opportunity to educate non-Muslim employees and bring the whole company together to celebrate the month, raise awareness and promote inclusivity by encouraging Muslim members of staff to tell colleagues about the festival and its traditions.

Above all, it’s vitally important that all employees, both Muslim and non-Muslim, are treated fairly over the month of Ramadan. Understanding and preparation are key in ensuring a smooth month for both individuals and businesses.

Amir Ahmed qualified as a Solicitor in 2020 and joined Nelsons’ Employment Law team in 2021. Since qualification, he has specialised in employment law matters, providing businesses and individuals with legal advice on a full range of employment and HR issues.

In this article, you learned that:

  • Islam is now the second-largest religion in the UK, with over three million practising members, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
  • During Ramadan, Muslim employees may want to take rest breaks throughout the working day to pray. Legally, one 20-minute break every six hours is mandatory under the Working Time Regulations 1998.
  • Ramadan ends with Eid-al-Fitr, and employers must be aware that Muslims may want to take leave for this occasion.
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