By Zee Hussain, Partner at Colemans-ctts

With Ramadan just around the corner - on 18 June - employers should be aware of any changes that may be required at work. Not only is there the religious ins and outs to explore to ensure Muslim employees are provided with the appropriate accommodations, it is also important to ensure non practicing employees are guided appropriately. Here is an outline of what businesses need to consider about this important time and the allowances that should be provided to employees.

The UK is well known for its broad representation of faiths in both our daily lives and at work. Employers have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 in creating and maintaining a working environment in which no one is put at a disadvantage because of their religion or belief. This also applies to the Muslim faith.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year, the holiest month and a time where Muslims globally focus on spirituality. Ramadan provides Muslims with a platform for greater self-control and discipline. This period of time is intended to allow Muslims to reflect on their lives and develop a deeper spiritual awareness whilst empathising with those less fortunate than themselves. Muslims have special night prayers and spend many hours studying their faith and whilst refraining from drinking, eating and smoking during daylight hours. Exceptions are made for young children, women who are pregnant or are nursing, those travelling long distances, those who are sick and also the elderly.

Many Muslims will carry on working during this period. When fasting, Muslims are prohibited from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset; a meal is often eaten before sunrise and then again when the fast ends at dusk. When Ramadan falls during the summer months, Muslims who engage in Ramadan will avoid food and drink for more than 18 hours each day. This can potentially affect them in many ways such a drop in energy levels, feeling tired and lower concentration levels.

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

Impact on employees

Having an understanding of the personal and religious sensitivities of employees taking part in Ramadan is paramount. As a duty of respect, all employees need to be made aware of what fasting entails, how long it lasts, how this could impact colleagues who are fasting and - more importantly - how this can translate into behaviour and working practices.

It is advisable to inform all staff about Ramadan and what’s involved for the employees taking part. Adopting flexible and clear arrangements during Ramadan should have a positive impact on the workforce generally, minimise disruption and the risk of misunderstandings or grievances. Understanding the experience of employees and accommodating their needs shows respect and good management and will help non-Muslim employees to acknowledge and better comprehend the experience of the fellow colleagues taking part in Ramadan.

Flexibility without compromising business requirements

Employers should offer support by being flexible with working hours, duties at work and break times where possible. Many Muslim employees may prefer to start earlier, miss or reduce lunch breaks, and get home so they can end the day's fast with their families. It is good practice for employers to have a Ramadan policy in place, which sets out the standard expected of all employees, not just those participating in Ramadan.

As a fasting employee's day starts much earlier, employers should consider arranging meetings, training sessions and other important tasks to be held in the mornings when employees' energy levels are likely to be higher.

During Ramadan, employers may receive an increased number of requests from Muslim employees to take breaks whilst at work to rest, particularly for jobs that involve manual work, or pray. Employers should approach requests for breaks sensitively and with flexibility, without compromising business requirements. Small adjustments like setting aside a dedicated prayer room or area will help but will also reduce the amount of travelling time the employee needs to attend prayers.

Finally, employers should be prepared to receive requests for holiday from Muslim workers at the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.; Employers will need to exercise flexibility and be prepared to grant leave at short notice which will be dependent on the sighting of the moon.