Advice by Andrew Willis, Head of Legal at Croner…
Monday April 12th signifies the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims often commit to a period of fasting during daylight hours. Considering this, here are three top tips for supporting staff during this time:
Flexible working and working from home
Given the physical demands of daytime fasting, staff may require some adjustments to their working routine during Ramadan, even if they are working from home. This could include altering shift patterns, allowing staff to start and finish earlier in the day to aid with daytime fasting, or amending workplace duties to reduce the chance of fatigue impacting performance or increasing the risk of injury.
It is important to remember that the requirements may affect each person differently, and organisations should refrain from taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to flexible working arrangements. Arguably, it is more important than ever that organisations take steps to accommodate their employees’ personal circumstances.
Annual leave and rest breaks
Consider that some individuals may wish to use their annual leave entitlement during Ramadan to allow them sufficient opportunity to rest during times of fasting or to participate in the Eid celebrations that follow. They may also ask for increased rest breaks or to change the time of these breaks. While it will be fair to expect staff to request time off in the usual way and provide sufficient notice, it may be wise to make an exception where possible to avoid discrimination, such as where requests occur on short notice or clash with other team members.
It may be difficult for an organisation to accommodate annual leave requests as a result of the coronavirus. However, given the importance of this to those who celebrate it, it is important to be as accommodating as possible.
Harassment and respect
Unfortunately, it can be the case that Muslim employees are at an increased risk of suffering religious harassment at work during Ramadan, either at the hands of third parties or their colleagues. Other staff may have the misconception that Muslim employees are receiving ‘special privileges’, especially if they are given time off or increased flexibility during the outbreak. Organisations should work to dispel any notion of this. Also, make sure to remind staff that appropriate action will be taken against anyone found responsible for offensive behaviour and that ‘workplace banter’ will not be accepted as a legitimate excuse for discrimination.
Given the importance of Ramadan to Muslim employees, it would be advisable to outline the organisation’s approach in a religious observance policy, giving individuals a clear source of information on their rights at work during this time. Having said this, any policy will need to be inclusive, giving equal footing to other religions, to avoid further claims of religious discrimination.