Accommodating the religious and spiritual needs of a workforce is an important part of ensuring that staff continue to be happy and productive. In the UK we are a melting pot of different faiths and making room for everyone is important in life and work – so important that we have enshrined it in law. The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to create and maintain a working environment in which no one is put at a disadvantage because of their religion or belief.

Ramadan – which started  on 18th June this year – is one period during which employers need to be able to provide Muslim staff with a way to meet the demands of their religion, and to offer those of other faiths or belief systems the insight and guidance they need to understand what might be happening around them. Zee Hussain, Partner at Colemans-ctts, looks at what businesses need to consider during this time and allowances that should be offered to employees.

Understanding Ramadan

What is Ramadan? Ramadan is an important time for Muslims, designed to offer a period of reflection, the opportunity to develop discipline and self-control and to seek a more in-depth spiritual understanding that includes empathising with others who are less fortunate. This focus on spirituality is a global event for Muslims and includes avoiding the consumption of food and drink (or smoking) during daylight hours, while incorporating special prayers and religious study in to their daily regime.

Are there any exceptions? Yes, exceptions are made for young children, women who are pregnant or are nursing, those travelling long distances and those who are sick or elderly.

How is Ramadan likely to affect staff? The majority of Muslims will simply carry on as normal during Ramadan. When it falls during the summer months, fasting from sunrise to sunset can mean no food and drink for up to 18 hours a day, which can impact everything from productivity and energy to concentration and general demeanour.

When is food consumed? Muslims are prohibited from eating and drinking during daylight hours; a meal is often eaten before sunrise and then again when the fast ends at dusk.

How does Ramadan end? Eid al-Fitr, also called ‘Feast of Breaking the Fast’, is celebrated by Muslims worldwide, to mark the end of Ramadan. The festival begins (and Ramadan ends) with the sight of the new moon

Incorporating Ramadan into the workplace

Why do management need to know about Ramadan? There’s no doubt that Ramadan will affect those employees who take part in it and management will be more effective for having a solid understanding of the personal and religious sensitivities of Muslim staff. It’s important that the wider workforce is given information about Ramadan too – what is involved in fasting, how long it lasts, how this may translate into behaviour and working practices.

How should information about Ramadan be communicated? Introducing flexible arrangements during Ramadan will have a positive impact on Muslim staff and being clear and definite about what will happen during this time will ensure that the entire workforce understands what Ramadan means for them. This will minimise disruption and help avoid misunderstandings or grievances arising. It is good practice for management to demonstrate knowledge of Ramadan, respect and consideration for Muslims during this time and will help others to understand and acknowledge the experience of their colleagues who are taking part.
Flexibility that maintains business standards: what practical steps are required? Flexibility with working hours, with respect to duties at work and varying break times is important. Muslim employees may have different approaches to Ramadan – some might prefer to start work earlier, miss or reduce lunch breaks, and leave early to be home in time to end their fasting. A Ramadan policy should set out the standard expected of all employees, not just those participating in Ramadan, and is an important part of any multicultural workplace.

How to accommodate the physical effects of fasting. Particularly where a job involves manual work, there may be more requests for work breaks during Ramadan. It might be a good idea to consider arranging meetings or training sessions in the morning at this time, when energy levels are higher, and employers should be prepared to respond sensitively to the need to rest, while still maintaining business standards. Prayer requests should also be flexibly dealt with – a dedicated prayer room will show consideration for the needs of Muslim employees, as well as reducing travelling time for staff to get to and from the prayers they need to attend.

Holidays requests. There may be a rise in Muslim workers requesting holiday at the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.; This may require a willingness to agree to leave at short notice, as the date that this falls on will depend on the sighting of the new moon.