Supporting staff through Ramadan and Eid

Muslim families celebrating Eid al-Fitr in London. Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock
Muslim families celebrating Eid al-Fitr in London. Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock

This year, the holy month of Ramadan starts on 6 June, meaning the longest average fasting hours in its lunar-based cycle. Zee Hussain looks at practical considerations for employers during this period.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is fast approaching. This is the ninth month of the Islamic year, the holiest month, and is a time where Muslims around the world focus on spirituality.

During Ramadan Muslims are prohibited from consuming food and drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset for 30 days.

This year Ramadan falls in the month of June, meaning this year’s Ramadan will have the longest average fasting hours (more than 18 hours each day) in its lunar-based cycle.

Many Muslims will carry on working during Ramadan and can be affected by a drop in energy, feeling tired and experiencing lower concentration levels.

In the UK, employers have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 by maintaining a working environment in which no one is put at a disadvantage because of their religion or belief. Companies may be at risk of discrimination claims if they treat those observing Ramadan less favourably than other employees, or if they operate policies that cause those observing Ramadan to suffer a disadvantage.

Employers are encouraged to exercise sensitivity and considerate behaviour around colleagues taking part in Ramadan. However, it is also a great opportunity to drive employee engagement and understanding among the wider workforce of this type of religious event by taking a proactive approach.

What to consider

  • Communicate to staff to inform them of Ramadan – this is a good opportunity to inform all employees of what fasting entails and the effect on colleagues taking part.
  • Offer support by being flexible with working hours, duties at work and break times – a fasting employee’s day starts much earlier – arrange for meetings, training and other important tasks to be held in the mornings when employees’ energy levels are likely to be higher.
  • Approach requests for breaks sensitively – fasting 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, which sets out the standard expected of all employees.

The festival of Eid

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims take part a joyous three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast-Breaking). The festivities begin on 6 July with the sight of the new moon.

Employers should therefore be prepared to receive requests for holiday from Muslim workers, exercise flexibility and be prepared to grant leave at short notice, which will be dependent on the sighting of the moon.

Eid is a time of charitable giving, to help those in need. Muslims will decorate their homes, celebrate and spend time with family and friends, give gifts and well-wishes. Comparisons can been drawn with a number of religious and cultural festivals around the world.

However, there is probably no easier parallel to draw then that with Christmas. Both are celebrated by billions of people round the world and draw energy from religious meaning. In most Muslim countries, the entire three day period is an official government and school holiday.

In recent times, more than 120,000 UK citizens signed a petition seeking to persuade the Government to create a public holiday to recognise this period of significance to the Muslim community.

Eid can be an opportunity to drive staff engagement and improve understanding of the Muslim festival across the workforce. Employers may want to consider approaching it in much the same way as Christmas/Easter or other religious events. Perhaps indulge in some themed food and treats, arrange fundraising activities, or hold an Eid party or lunch.

It is a celebration to mark and celebrate the end of what is a difficult month for Muslim employees but also a period to give thanks, reflect and recognise those that are less fortunate than us.

The end of Ramadan and Eid is a big deal to Muslim colleagues. Being able to bring those celebrations to work and share with fellow colleagues will no doubt do wonders for morale and the working environment.

Zee Hussain

About Zee Hussain

Zee Hussain is an employment partner at Simpson Millar LLP.
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