For many Muslims the religious observance of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins on Wednesday 16th May 2018 and it ends 30 days later on the evening of Thursday 14th June 2018. It is determined by the first confirmed sighting of the new moon and therefore the start date varies depending on where you are around the world.
For adults, this observance will include fasting from sunrise to sunset which is one of the five “pillars” of Islam. This is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint, and generosity. It is common to have one meal, the Suhoor (also know as Sahūr, Suhūr), just before sunrise and another known as the ‘iftar’, directly after sunset. Some Muslims are exempt such as young children, those who are sick, people with mental health illnesses, the elderly and women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby.
ACAS advises that employers can support Muslim employees during Ramadan and warns that fasting may affect people in different ways therefore some understanding from both managers and colleagues can be helpful. Therefore, special consideration should be given to those whose productivity may be affected by their fasting. This applies not only in the workplace but to schools as well especially for those sitting critical school exams.
Here are 4 top tips for employers on how to support employees observing this festival:
1. Flexible working
Give employees the opportunity for more flexible working opportunities and time off during such a religious observance which can assist them to cope with the fasting elements as well as other observances, such as prayers, during Ramadan.
For example, allowing Muslims to come to work later so that they can rest after getting up early to eat; or to allow them to leave work earlier so that, again, they can rest before the end of their day of fasting. There is some helpful information on the NHS website here: NHS - Healthy Ramadan for Muslims to stay healthy during Ramadan.
2. Time off for religious festival
Ramadan finishes on 14 June with the festival of Eid al-Fitr which is a three-day festival where Muslim families join together, exchanging gifts and enjoying early morning prayers and breakfast followed by a day of feasting with friends and family. There may be an increase in requests to take annual leave by Muslim workers around this time. It may not be practical to grant all of the requests, but employers should be aware that a refusal to allow time off for religious reasons may be discriminatory even if the refusal is made in accordance with normal procedure. Discussions should be held with all employees regarding annual leave requests and the reasons for not being able to grant annual leave should be carefully explained.
3. Respect from colleagues
Non-Muslims should be encouraged to show respect for Muslims who are observing Ramadan and to ensure they are culturally sensitive. For example, be more aware when organising working lunches, arranging meetings based around shared food, or staff meals. Colleagues could also just be more sensitive when eating lunch at one’s desk. It is a good idea to ask Muslims to be open about their faith and observance of Ramadan in order to raise awareness of Islam more generally in the workplace so that all employees become more culturally aware about Islamic values.
Ramada is more than just avoiding food and drink; it’s about spiritual purity, a time of self-reflection and living a virtuous lifestyle. Having a quiet and private space for employees to pray is often very much appreciated.
4. Awareness of impact on productivity
Managers should be aware of the impact that fasting may have on an employee’s productivity levels. This may be the case especially at the end of the day when a fasting employee is likely to have low energy levels, and which may have an impact on their productivity.
It is sensible to discuss this in advance, for example, by talking this over with the employee, and plan ahead so as to, perhaps avoid scheduling meetings at the end of the day, consider delaying certain events, such as training events or conferences to after Ramadan, being more aware of how fasting is likely to impact on individuals will enable managers to make sensible adjustments.
Awareness and understanding of Ramadan, and other religious festivals, can be aided by posting information on staff notice boards or newsletters. It may also offer an opportunity for staff to learn more about different cultures form both colleagues and clients/customers and this should be encouraged.
If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me.