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Supporting employees during Ramadan

Ramadan is a holy month that is observed by Muslims around the world. As an employer, you might get requests for leave or flexible working during this time. In addition, there are things you can do to support your Muslim employees.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It can last for either 29 or 30 days. During this time, many Muslims will:

  • reflect on their life and connection to God;

  • recite the Quran;

  • stop eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sexual activity from dawn until sunset.

When someone stops eating and drinking, it is usually called ‘fasting’. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is important to Muslims as it is one of the 5 pillars of Islam. This means they must do it as part of their faith.

At the end of the month-long period of fasting, there is a short festival called Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Fitr

This is a celebration that is held immediately after Ramadan. Its name means 'festival of the breaking of the fast’.

Eid al-Fitr is different from Eid al-Adha, which is a festival that is held later in the Islamic year. People sometimes call Eid al-Fitr ‘small Eid’ and Eid al-Adha ‘big Eid’. However, you might also hear people call both festivals ‘Eid’.

For many Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is a time when they will:

  • spend time with friends and family;

  • enjoy a special meal;

  • exchange gifts;

  • give money to charity.

Eid al-Fitr is separate from Ramadan, and actually takes place at the start of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. However, in practice, the two events are closely linked.

When is Ramadan?

Ramadan’s dates are linked to the moon’s cycle and visibility. This means that it begins ten or eleven days earlier each year and can last 29 or 30 days, depending on when the moon is seen.

For some Muslims, Ramadan will not begin until a crescent moon has actually been seen in the sky. This might be where they are, or somewhere else in the world. For example, some Muslims in the UK will begin Ramadan once a crescent moon has been seen in Saudi Arabia.

Other Muslims might begin Ramadan based on the moon’s calculated position, without waiting for an announcement about a sighting. For these reasons, it is not possible to say exactly when Ramadan will start.

Ramadan in 2023

In 2023 Ramadan began on 22nd March 2023 and will end on 21st April 2023. Eid al-Fitr starts on either 22nd or 23rd April 2023.

Leave during Ramadan

Many Muslims will continue to work as normal during Ramadan. However, as it is a time for fasting and reflection, some Muslim employees might prefer to take leave. This is particularly likely during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which many consider to be an especially holy time.

You might also get requests for time off during some or all of the Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

As an employer, it is important that you deal with these requests fairly and in line with your agreed procedures. For example, you should make sure your employees understand:

how they can request leave, including how much notice they need to give you;

whether they have a contractual right to take leave for religious observance or they will need to use annual leave.

When handling requests for leave during Ramadan, bear in mind that employees will not know the exact dates in advance so you may have to be a little flexible with arrangements.

Making a decision about a leave request

Generally speaking, it is good practice to accommodate Muslim employees’ requests for leave during Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr. However, in some situations, you might have concerns about how staff absences will affect your business.

Whilst the employee has a right to request time off for religious reasons, you do not have to agree automatically. However, you must:

  • give the employee’s request proper consideration;

  • make sure you are not unlawfully discriminating against the employee;

  • be able to explain why you have not granted an employee’s request.

If you are thinking of rejecting a request, consider whether there might be another way to meet the needs of the business. For example, it might be possible to reschedule non-urgent work until after the end of Ramadan.

Flexible working during Ramadan

In some cases, rather than taking time off, a Muslim employee might ask to change their working patterns. For example, they might ask to do this so they can attend all-night prayers during the final 10 days of Ramadan.

You can support requests for flexible working by allowing employees to:

start or finish work at different times from normal;

change their rest breaks;

work through their lunch break so they can finish early;

work from home.

However, it is important that you discuss any changes to working arrangements with the employee themselves. This will ensure that the new arrangements suit their circumstances.

If you are making changes to an employee’s breaks, you must make sure that you stick to the Working Time Regulations. Check with an expert in HR law if you are in any doubt.

Other ways of supporting employees

Food and drink at work

As it is likely that Muslim employees will be fasting during daylight hours, you should take care if you are arranging:

  • working lunches;

  • meetings based around shared food;

  • staff meals.

Depending on the circumstances, it might be better to cancel or reschedule these activities. You could also consider holding work events without food and drink.

If you decide to go ahead with activities that involve food, you should make alternative arrangements for anyone who is fasting. You should also communicate these in advance, so the employee knows what is happening and does not feel excluded.

Employee performance

In some cases, an employee’s performance might be affected by their fasting. This is especially likely when Ramadan falls in the summer, as the daylight period could last up to 16 hours.

If you believe an employee is not performing as well as they usually do, show them understanding and offer support. You could speak to them and find out if there is anything you can do to help. For example, they might find it useful if you:

  • arrange for them to attend meetings and carry out demanding work in the morning, when their concentration might be better;

  • reschedule low-priority work until after Ramadan.

If you are in any doubt about how to support Muslim employees or the legal implications of request for leave or flexible working, it is a very good idea to seek expert legal advice on the subject to ensure you get it right and avoid any problems further down the line.

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