07 May 2019
This year, Ramadan falls on the 5th May and ends on 4th June. The observance is much more than a commitment to fast between sunrise and sunset, but it is often the main focus.
For employers, fasting is one of the most important elements of Ramadan to consider, as it may impact employees’ work or pose a health & safety risk.
It’s important to acknowledge too that what we are discussing here will be a general overview. Different Muslims will observe Ramadan in different ways, while others may choose not to practice their religion at all.
Like any other religious holiday, employers tend to get a little jittery when questions about flexible working, annual leave, and general changes to the day-to-day running of their business crop up. Here’s why you should consider making special allowances, and what those special allowances might be:
There’s no point making special allowances for employees fasting for Ramadan...
...Or is there?
Fasting for approximately 17 hours a day can have a significant toll on a person. Both mentally and physically. Remember—those fasting cannot drink, smoke, or chew gum—it’s more grueling than just going hungry.
When the weather is hot, and the days are long, going without water can cause dehydration.
If employees are on overnight shifts, they’ll be working during their eating/drinking/smoking/praying hours.
Understandably, this can have a negative impact on an employee’s mood, making them tired and irritable.
Making special allowances in this case not only demonstrates that you, as an employer, are looking out for your employees—it can also have a noticeable impact on your employees’ wellbeing.
Doesn’t this post a significant health & safety risk?
Contrary to popular belief, Muslims who are physically or mentally unfit, pregnant, or travelling, don’t have to fast. Meaning employees who travel long-distances as part of their role may be excluded from fasting
Of course, that may not stop some individuals from trying, in which case it may be worth having a frank one-to-one conversation with them as soon as possible. Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health & safety, and in some industries, fasting may be deemed a failure to do this.
On the whole that eliminates a lot of the risk.
However, that doesn’t mean you should become complacent.
Dehydration and undetected, underlying illness still pose a risk. Which is where special allowances can come into play.
What special allowances should I make?
Firstly, you should ensure all staff are aware of what fasting at Ramadan entails, and how it could impact a colleague. This way, everyone is prepared for any shifts in mood, as well as being made knowledgeable about the potential health impact.
Some other allowances you can make, include:
- Flexitime options for those working 9-5. Individuals are likely to take a shorter lunch anyway, why not let them finish work a little earlier?
- If they’re working an overnight shift, allow the employee to take a break at sunset to break their fast. Allow enough time to pray and eat properly.
- Avoid meetings with the individual in the afternoon, as concentration is likely to dwindle later in the day, schedule meetings in the morning where possible.
- Be as accommodating as possible with annual leave requests, following company policy to the letter
- If employees work late enough, and you have a canteen, ensure food options are available for workers who wish to break their fast.
- You might want to amend certain workplace duties that are too strenuous, or reassign them for a period of time.
- If possible, you could introduce a period of home working to reduce commute time and allow staff to work in a more comfortable environment.
Rather than look at these allowances as a negative, look at them as an opportunity. Being open and considerate as an employer makes you an attractive business for new talent. It will also have a tremendous impact on the morale of your workforce.
Will this not result in claims of discrimination from employees with different religious backgrounds?
Direct religious discrimination is defined as “treating one individual less favourably as another due to their religion.”
What this essentially means is, you can make these special allowances, so long as you are equally considerate with everyone else.
Keep a record of any allowances you make (especially with flexitime or flexible working) as this serves as proof of fair treatment should you face a claim of discrimination. Also, it is just good practice.
You can actually use Ramadan (and any other religious observance for that matter) as a means of creating discussion in the workplace, and developing understanding, ultimately leading to a more tolerant and diverse workplace.
Still think it’s a waste of time?
To summarise, fasting can post a health & safety risk for some individuals, it’s worth making special allowances and being observant to ensure their wellbeing.
Not only that, certain allowances make employees’ workday more manageable, meaning your business runs smoothly.
Being a considerate employer boosts your reputation, helping to attract and retain talent.
And, you can use this time to raise awareness, encourage discussion, and promote a tolerant, diverse workplace.
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