HR must do more to understand and prepare for Ramadan and other religious festivals

A public sector HR chief has warned a new requirement to monitor religion during recruitment will pose “difficulties” if the function does not do more to understand and prepare for religious festivals and events.

Graham White, the HR director at Westminster City Council, said that upcoming Muslim festival Ramadan served as a timely reminder for organisations to plan ahead of the introduction of the Equality Bill in 2011, which will extend the public sector equality duty to cover religion.

Under the Bill, public sector bodies will be expected to monitor employee beliefs to help promote religious equality at work, in the same way organisations monitor race, gender and disabilities.

White said public sector bodies should not wait to be told to monitor religion at work, however. They should already be making efforts to communicate to staff about the different types of events occurring throughout the year so participating employees feel comfortable requesting time off or different working arrangements with their managers.

“Employers should not wait to be asked to monitor religion. They need to get the message out to managers that there are a number of

What is Ramadan?

  • Ramadan is due to start on 22 August and lasts approximately one month, until about
    20 September.
  • It is an Islamic religious observance, during which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, sex and smoking during daylight hours.
  • After 29 or 30 days, once a new moon has been sighted, the Islamic holiday of Eid marks the end of the fasting period.
different groups who take part in celebrations across different days of the week,” he told Personnel Today.

White said Westminster publishes a calendar detailing religious events to staff and updates its intranet to enable everyone to be aware of different activities.

“At the moment we don’t monitor by religion. It is going to be requirement in 2011, and that then gets more difficult if we don’t prepare well in advance now,” he said.

The Employers Forum on Belief (EFB), set up in 2003 to promote religious equality at work, confirmed that monitoring religion during recruitment would be complex due to the variety of ways people defined their beliefs.

A spokesman added “not many” employers currently asked these questions, and some candidates still felt it unnecessary to disclose their beliefs.

“The more employers can do now to understand religious events and activities, the better they will be prepared [for the Equality Bill],” he said.

Jo Barclay, diversity project manager at the Co-operative Group, a founding member of the EFB, said the firm’s managers often received high volumes of requests from Muslim staff to forgo their lunch breaks and leave earlier during Ramadan.

“It is important managers consider requests [for time off] seriously and communicate the reasons as to why that request for time off is accepted or denied. It is about being very clear as a business and planning in advance to organise shifts.”


How HR is preparing for Ramadan

David Fairclough, strategic director of HR at Blackburn with Darwen Council: “We issue information, advice and guidance to all managers every year to ensure we recognise and respect the traditions and requirements of Muslims among our staff and in the local community during Ramadan. Subject to their manager’s approval and the needs of the service, staff may use flexi-time and request leave (annual or unpaid) to enable them to observe Ramzan and celebrate Eid.”

Graham White, HR director at Westminster City Council: “We have developed quiet space in our two main buildings, for

Top 5 tips for preparing
for Ramadan
Religion: a guide for employers and HR

For your comprehensive guide to Ramadan and other religious festivals please see our guide for employers and HR

meditation, prayer and religious observance, and they are appropriately prepared. We ensure we keep our general managers team up to date with any impending religious days and they are aware of what likely requests they might get.”

Jo Barclay, diversity project manager at the Co-operative Group (a founding member of the EFB): “Productivity may drop during the month of Ramadan as participating Muslims are not getting any fuel. Our managers may therefore encourage those workers not to organise meetings past 3pm, or to leave earlier where possible.”

Rachel Krys, EFB campaign director: “Something as simple as not having biscuits at a team meeting would demonstrate sensitivity to what your Muslim colleagues are doing.”

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