In today’s richly diverse society, it is essential employers demonstrate an understanding of the cultural variances of employees and foster an inclusive environment in the workplace, ensuring multi-faith workforces are listened to, respected and encouraged, argues Holly Navarro.
It is important for employers to create a working environment that acknowledges and respects different religious commitments, allowing them to attract and retain a more diverse talent pool of skilled individuals.
Here, Employment Law Solicitor at Primas Law, Holly Navarro explores some of the ways in which businesses can help create an inclusive working environment to support employees who may be observing Ramadan.
The holy month of Ramadan commenced on the 22nd March, an Islamic festival observed by Muslims across the globe. While some Muslims may opt to take some time off work during Ramadan, many are likely to continue working throughout this period. In order to support those employees observing Ramadan, employers need to understand what this time might involve for these employees, especially the challenges they may face.
Employers should communicate and demonstrate awareness of the needs and concerns of employees who are observing Ramadan. They should have discussions to identify what, if any, support employees may need while working during this period. There are a number of different approaches to observing (or not observing) Ramadan, and awareness is very much key to ensure the appropriate support is put in place, depending on the individual.
Employers should engage in these conversations in a respectful way and avoid asking direct questions that require employees to discuss their personal approach to Ramadan. Instead, employers should frame the conversation in a more open way, inviting employees to let them know if there is anything that may be done at work to help to accommodate them during this period.
A report from the Muslim Census Team found that Muslims are twice as likely to stay at their current place of employment for five years or more if they feel their workplace is supportive in Ramadan. It is therefore vital that employers demonstrate awareness and implement support during Ramadan if they want to retain the best of the Muslin talent pool.
Employers should anticipate the need to be flexible in order to respect differing working patterns. Those observing Ramadan will be waking up early before sunrise to have their first meal of the day and staying up late for prayers. They may also have extra commitments to observe, especially in the last ten days of Ramadan when additional evening prayers often take place. These employees will inevitably have disturbed sleeping patterns and employers should try to adopt a flexible approach and be open to employees adjusting their work pattern.
For example, to minimise the impact of fatigue, employers could allow employees to amend their start and/or finish times, or to shorten their lunch break to allow for regular breaks during the day (whilst remaining mindful of minimum breaks under the Working Time Regulations 1998).
Requests for flexibility should be considered but should also take the wider team into account. Employers should take care to ensure that they do not treat any employees observing Ramadan less favourably because of the request(s) they have made, whilst also ensuring that any flexibility does not place unreasonably additional burdens on other employees.
Ramadan is a time for reflection and prayer, and many Muslims will use this time to engage in prayers throughout the day. If employers do not already have a dedicated multi-faith area, they should discuss with employees what facilities they may require and identify a space which can be used at certain times of the day without interruption. This should then be made known to all employees.
Employers may see an increase in the number of requests for annual leave over Ramadan, particularly towards the end when celebrations begin for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival to mark the end of Ramadan. This year, Eid al-Fitr is expected to take place on either Friday 21st April or Saturday 22nd April.
As the start of Eid al-Fitr is dependent on the sighting of a new moon at the end of Ramadan, it can be difficult to predict the date accurately in advance and employees may not know exactly when they need to request time off, so requests may be made at short notice. Employers should deal with requests fairly and in a flexible manner in line with their annual leave policy. If it is not possible to grant leave, employers should explain the reasons for this and consider whether other flexibility might be possible to allow the employee to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. For example, by allowing the employee to leave early.