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Supporting staff through Ramadan

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 21 Mar 2023

Communication, support and empathy can ensure your Muslim colleagues can celebrate their faith without it impacting their work while also creating an inclusive workplace that is respectful of all employees, regardless of their religious beliefs.

The holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin on Wednesday 22 March, once the moon is sighted over Mecca. Lasting for 30 days, the religious holiday celebrated by millions worldwide sees practising Muslims abstain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. It can be a gruelling month, with those taking part invariably feeling tired and fatigued. 

There are things that employers can do to make life easier for fasting employees as well as minimising any disruption to business operations. At the same time, there are many benefits to creating a workplace that is welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and respectful of all employees, regardless of their religious beliefs and practices. 

Be flexible

Ensure employees aren’t stressed or worried about balancing their personal life and professional demands by offering flexibility. This can include an earlier start time, a shorter lunch break or extra breaks for prayer. Employers should also seek to accommodate annual leave requests where appropriate.

“Individuals who can alter their start and finish times help individuals organise their working day around sunset and sunrise fasting breaks, and schedule more physically or mentally challenging tasks for the periods where they have the most energy,” says Nadeem Ahmad, founder and Managing Director of diversity consultancy and recruitment agency Templeton and Partners.

Offer breaks to minimise exhaustion

Regular breaks throughout the day are beneficial to minimise exhaustion and help staff from feeling unwell when fasting. “Fasting is likely to lead to fatigue, so allowing more rest breaks, modifying the employee’s duties or allowing them to work through lunch may be beneficial to both parties,” says Hussain Kayani, Principal Employment Law Adviser at WorkNest.

Bear in mind that decreased energy may also affect employees’ performance or productivity. Religion is one of the nine protected characteristics under The Equality Act 2010 so it’s important that employers do not penalise employees who are fasting for any loss of productivity during this time, as to do so would be seen as discriminatory. 

Instead, it’s best to work with the employee to find solutions. “This might include scheduling meetings and other essential or demanding tasks at the start of their shift when they have the most energy,” Kayani says.

Provide a dedicated prayer space 

Enforcing a ‘no prayer in the workplace’ rule may constitute indirect discrimination. It would disproportionately affect Muslim employees compared to those of other religions who would not normally be required to pray at set times throughout the day.

Consider offering your employees a dedicated space that they can use to pray privately during the working day and ensure that managers and team members understand and respect the need to keep the area free for their colleagues when they need it, says Ahmad.

Understand employees’ personal needs 

Managers should be proactive about asking their teams exactly what they need, and communicate closely with their direct reports throughout Ramadan to identify where they may be struggling and how they might benefit from changes to the support structure in place.

Kawsar Zaman, an Employment and Public Law barrister at No5 Barristers’ Chambers, says: “Not everyone will require change during Ramadan, as this will depend on the work and environment in question. Two-way communication is the best way to find reasonable adjustments.”

At the same time, don’t assume that every Muslim employee will be observing Ramadan by fasting or that those who are fasting will want accommodations made for them, says Alan Price, CEO at HR consultancy BrightHR. “Communication is key, so it’s important to facilitate a culture of open communication where discussion is encouraged, and mutually beneficial arrangements can be made.”

Company-wide support 

Raising awareness of Ramadan and communicating its importance from the very top of the organisation will help all employees better understand and support their Muslim co-workers. 

Employees can serve as great allies for their colleagues by scheduling meetings around their colleagues’ flexible work times and periods where they have the most energy, advocating on behalf of their colleagues if managers are not helpful, and continually communicating with colleagues to see whether they can offer any other support, Ahmad says.

Educate yourself and others about the significance of the month, advises Kubair Shirazee, agility coach and CEO at Agilitea: “It helps when employers and managers are mindful of food and drink, not only what they eat but where and when, while Muslim staff are fasting.” Consider organising a company iftar, the fast-breaking evening meal of Muslims in Ramadan, to show understanding and empathy.

Foster a culture of respect

Susan Thompson, Partner and specialist employment lawyer at law firm Simkins LLP, says employers should facilitate an environment in which their employees feel comfortable being open with them about their religious practices. 

“It’s important to ensure that all employees are considerate and open to their colleagues fasting (and religious practices generally). Employees who are in management positions should be particularly mindful of their colleagues’ religious practices, particularly those at more junior levels.”

“Above all, foster a culture of respect,” says WorkNest’s Kayani. “It’s worth circulating a company-wide email or putting up a notice in communal areas to make everyone aware of Ramadan and remind them of your policy on bullying and harassment. Managers should lead the way in ensuring employees are sensitive to people’s religious beliefs, as inappropriate comments or ‘banter’ may expose you to harassment claims.”

Small changes and collaborative adjustments can ensure that Muslim employees can truly celebrate their faith without it impacting their work. Funke Sadare, HR Director at Global University Systems, says: “By introducing these measures, employees will feel valued as their employer creates a workplace that is welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and respectful of all employees, regardless of their religious beliefs and practices.”

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