As it is now Ramadan, many Muslims will be fasting from sunrise to sunset each day for one lunar month

For many, this entails refraining from consuming any food and drink during daylight hours. This article will explore how employers can support those who observe this period of fasting whilst working.

Impact on energy, concentration and productivity – the importance of tolerance

Employers should bear in mind that fasting may result in employees and workers feeling more tired than usual.  Many employees will not have consumed any food and/or drink since dawn. This may result in their focus and concentration being impacted, particularly towards the end of the day.

The case of Bhatti and another v Pontiac Coils Europe Ltd, clearly demonstrates that employers should not criticise or penalise an employee whose productivity has decreased as a result of fasting as part of observing religious rules.  In this case, it was found that the critical comments made towards an employee about her reduced productivity as a result of her fasting amounted to direct discrimination and harassment.

As an employer, if you do feel that the productivity of an employee, who is fasting has been impacted, rather than criticising or penalising the employee, ask if there is anything that you can do in terms of changing aspects at  work to make it easier for them (see below for examples).

What measures could you implement to support those who are fasting?

Without compromising business requirements, depending on the size and resources of your business, you may want to consider the following measures for those who are fasting:

  • Flexible working hours
  • Earlier starts and earlier finishes
  • Meetings earlier in the day
  • Training sessions earlier in the day
  • Rescheduling events such as working lunches

Importance of having a religious observance policy in place

A policy on religious observance can help employers accommodate religious observance which can help create tolerant workplace for all faiths. The policy can give guidance on allowances that can be implemented e.g. rest breaks, adjustment to work hours etc, working through lunches and having an early finish etc.

It is extremely important that the policy is applied consistently and equally to all religions to avoid any claims of discrimination.

Annual leave requests 

Employers can expect to receive annual leave requests towards the end of Ramadan and for Eid al-Fitr , which is the Islamic Holiday that marks the end of the holy month. It should be noted that as Eid al-Fitr depends on the sighting of the moon, the exact date of Eid al-Fitr cannot be determined until very short notice.

These requests should be dealt with under normal leave procedures. However, employers should deal with these annual leave requests, sensitively, sympathetically and fairly as possible.

It may not always be feasible to grant all requests for leave under these circumstances as this depends on the size and resources of the business. For example, a business with 1000 employees is more likely to obtain cover for an employee taking leave for these reasons compared to a business with three employees. 

Ultimately, requests for time off for Eid al-Fitr or for Ramadan as well as for other religious festivals for other faiths, should be considered properly having regard to the practicalities of granting the requests. These requests should not be refused without proper and fair consideration.

If you would like us to prepare a religious observance policy or require any further information, please contact Sabrina Rahman on 0114-228-3262 or or another member of the employment law team.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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