Ramadan – A guide for employers

This year, Ramadan commenced on Tuesday 9 July 2013 and will continue for 30 days until Wednesday 7 August 2013. Ramadan is always on the same day of the Islamic calendar, but the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar and the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar meaning that Ramadan moves in the Gregorian calendar approximately 11 days every year. As an employer, you should be aware of when Ramadan will start and end, and how it might impact on your employees.

Observing fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. All Muslims are expected to fast during Ramadan, although an exception is made for children under the age of 12, women who are pregnant or nursing, Muslims who are travelling or sick and the elderly. When fasting, Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset.

It is reasonable to expect employers to make appropriate accommodations wherever possible. One of the simplest measures that an employer can introduce is to ensure that all staff are made aware of when Ramadan is, how long it lasts for, and what fasting entails. An employer would not be expected to insist that a non Muslim abstained from eating and drinking in the presence of a Muslim, but sensitivity for Muslim colleagues should be encouraged. For example, a polite request to be excused for eating is likely to be well received by a fasting Muslim.

Greater consideration should be given to working lunches, staff meals and meetings where food is shared. Events of this nature are best avoided if at all possible, or carried out with special arrangements for those who are fasting. As a result of the fasting, employees may suffer from reduced energy levels and as an employer, you may consider offering support by allowing flexibility regarding working hours, breaks and duties. If a Muslim employee specifically requests to vary their hours, a request of this nature should be given careful consideration and only rejected where you have a good business reason for doing so.

Furthermore, an employer should expect Muslim employees to pray more during Ramadan and while providing a quiet and private space to pray is not a must have, it would certainly be appreciated by Muslim employees.

Eid al-Fitr is the three day festival marking the end of Ramadan. Employers should expect Muslim employees to seek annual leave during this time, and again requests should only be rejected if it is absolutely necessary.

It is down to individual businesses to asses the extent of the measures they are prepared to introduce during Ramadan. However, if I could offer one piece of advice it would be to encourage awareness of Ramadan in the workplace. This is simple to achieve and likely to have the greatest impact.

James Twine, Partner, Head of the Employment Team.01752 292351jtwine@wolferstans.com

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