Ramadan: Will flexible working balance staff and business needs? Ramadan: Will flexible working balance staff and business needs?

Ramadan: Will flexible working balance staff and business needs?
15 May 2018

Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar and is a time of fasting for Muslims worldwide in order to learn discipline and self-restraint. This year, it will begin on Tuesday 15 May and last until Thursday 14 June.

The date of this holy month varies every year depending on when the new moon is first seen in the sky. The start of Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday that marks its end, also depends on where you are in the world and when the new moon is sighted.

In the Arab world, Ramadan brings shortened work hours for most employees, but in the US and Europe, where Muslims are in a minority, it is often business-as-usual. Because most religious observers avoid having food and water between sunset and sundown, Muslim workers in these regions are likely to have more energy earlier in the day. As a result, employers might be advised to offer flexible working to such staff as an option at least for the duration of Ramadan.

Alternatively, it might be sensible to try to organise meetings and conference calls for morning times when employees are likely to be at their most alert. Allowing them to work half-days in the office combined with working from home later in the day after they have broken their fast could also be a consideration.

But do be mindful that lack of sleep during Ramadan can be a cause for concern. Because evening prayers do not usually start until around 9pm and are followed by the iftar meal, late nights are an integral part of the festival. So also take this into consideration when scheduling early morning meetings.

Depending where you are in the world, the length of the daily fast can vary. In some countries, your staff could be fasting up for to 19 hours a day so it is important to be mindful of this situation and offer them support.

A key concern for employers is that their business will continue to run smoothly while employees are fasting or working reduced hours. While organisations across the Middle East typically slow down during Ramadan, companies in non-Islamic countries or those that frequently do business with firms in non-Islamic countries, should plan ahead.

If you anticipate that Ramadan will be a busy month, take steps to ensure there is adequate staff cover and/or make arrangements to introduce flexible working hours. Flexibility, understanding and consideration are key to enabling staff to observe Ramadan as they choose while also remaining productive. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions to help you get the balance right:

Are my staff automatically entitled to take time off over Ramadan if they request it?

There is no automatic entitlement for time off during Ramadan. Your employees should submit their holiday requests in the normal way and you can authorise them according to your usual rules. If you can accommodate it operationally, however, it would be reasonable to consider giving them unpaid leave.

An employee has asked to work different shifts than normal during Ramadan - do I have to say yes?

You are not obliged to allow an employee to work different shifts, but you should consider the request in a reasonable manner and accommodate it if you can. Ultimately if it is not possible for them to change shifts for business reasons, you can say no. If you are unable to grant their request, you should provide reasons for refusing.

If I say no to time off requests during Ramadan, will I face a discrimination claim?

Not unless you have refused the request unreasonably, that is you have no genuine reason for refusing the time off and/or you have deviated from your usual annual leave rules. You have the right to refuse requests if you have clear business reasons for doing so.

Several of my employees are fasting for the month of Ramadan - what can I do to help them and ensure their productivity remains the same?

Ensure that all of your workers receive adequate rest breaks. Although there is technically no obligation, you could consider allowing increased breaks for the period of Ramadan. Some staff may wish to use their rest breaks to pray or break their fast. Others may request to change break times so as to coincide with daily prayer times. All requests should be considered as fairly as possible. We recommend being as flexible as possible, as long as the request does not interfere with your business needs.

I run a warehouse company and some of my employees are fasting. Do I need to do anything differently this month?

Speak to your employees to ensure they feel supported during Ramadan. You might want to consider doing a risk assessment if their work is manual as they may feel weaker or have less energy due to their fast. It also might be sensible to investigate whether it will be necessary and/or possible to amend their duties during this period.

Some of my employees have asked for time off over Eid but are unable to give me exact dates. What should I do?

Eid is the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Because Ramadan is part of a lunar calendar rather than a Gregorian one, the actual day on which Eid falls is determined by the sighting of the new moon and it is, therefore, not always possible for employees to be specific about which day(s) they would like to take as leave. As a result, you will need to be flexible here. It might be that employees request two days of annual leave to cover the two possible dates but then only end up taking the one on which Eid actually falls.

Do I have to consider other religions and their festivals too?

Yes. The key is to apply all policies equally and consistently. While each request for time off or special arrangements will turn on its own circumstances and business reasons, the best approach is to ensure your policy is neutral. There is no need to be afraid of discrimination claims if you act reasonably, fairly and in accordance with legitimate business reasons.

 Emma O'Leary

Emma O’Leary has been a solicitor in the UK for 10 years and is a consultant to business support services provider, ELAS. She specialises in employment law, with a particular focus on unfair dismissal and discrimination, and has conducted numerous tribunal hearings for small businesses and large enterprises. Emma also runs her own law firm, Essential Solicitors LLP, where she advises small-to-medium enterprises on commercial and corporate matters and also undertakes private client work.

Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar and is a time of fasting for Muslims worldwide in order to learn discipline and self-restraint. This year, it will begin on Tuesday 15 May and last until Thursday 14 June.

The date of this holy month varies every year depending on when the new moon is first seen in the sky. The start of Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday that marks its end, also depends on where you are in the world and when the new moon is sighted.

In the Arab world, Ramadan brings shortened work hours for most employees, but in the US and Europe, where Muslims are in a minority, it is often business-as-usual. Because most religious observers avoid having food and water between sunset and sundown, Muslim workers in these regions are likely to have more energy earlier in the day. As a result, employers might be advised to offer flexible working to such staff as an option at least for the duration of Ramadan.

Alternatively, it might be sensible to try to organise meetings and conference calls for morning times when employees are likely to be at their most alert. Allowing them to work half-days in the office combined with working from home later in the day after they have broken their fast could also be a consideration.

But do be mindful that lack of sleep during Ramadan can be a cause for concern. Because evening prayers do not usually start until around 9pm and are followed by the iftar meal, late nights are an integral part of the festival. So also take this into consideration when scheduling early morning meetings.

Depending where you are in the world, the length of the daily fast can vary. In some countries, your staff could be fasting up for to 19 hours a day so it is important to be mindful of this situation and offer them support.

A key concern for employers is that their business will continue to run smoothly while employees are fasting or working reduced hours. While organisations across the Middle East typically slow down during Ramadan, companies in non-Islamic countries or those that frequently do business with firms in non-Islamic countries, should plan ahead.

If you anticipate that Ramadan will be a busy month, take steps to ensure there is adequate staff cover and/or make arrangements to introduce flexible working hours. Flexibility, understanding and consideration are key to enabling staff to observe Ramadan as they choose while also remaining productive. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions to help you get the balance right:

Are my staff automatically entitled to take time off over Ramadan if they request it?

There is no automatic entitlement for time off during Ramadan. Your employees should submit their holiday requests in the normal way and you can authorise them according to your usual rules. If you can accommodate it operationally, however, it would be reasonable to consider giving them unpaid leave.

An employee has asked to work different shifts than normal during Ramadan - do I have to say yes?

You are not obliged to allow an employee to work different shifts, but you should consider the request in a reasonable manner and accommodate it if you can. Ultimately if it is not possible for them to change shifts for business reasons, you can say no. If you are unable to grant their request, you should provide reasons for refusing.

If I say no to time off requests during Ramadan, will I face a discrimination claim?

Not unless you have refused the request unreasonably, that is you have no genuine reason for refusing the time off and/or you have deviated from your usual annual leave rules. You have the right to refuse requests if you have clear business reasons for doing so.

Several of my employees are fasting for the month of Ramadan - what can I do to help them and ensure their productivity remains the same?

Ensure that all of your workers receive adequate rest breaks. Although there is technically no obligation, you could consider allowing increased breaks for the period of Ramadan. Some staff may wish to use their rest breaks to pray or break their fast. Others may request to change break times so as to coincide with daily prayer times. All requests should be considered as fairly as possible. We recommend being as flexible as possible, as long as the request does not interfere with your business needs.

I run a warehouse company and some of my employees are fasting. Do I need to do anything differently this month?

Speak to your employees to ensure they feel supported during Ramadan. You might want to consider doing a risk assessment if their work is manual as they may feel weaker or have less energy due to their fast. It also might be sensible to investigate whether it will be necessary and/or possible to amend their duties during this period.

Some of my employees have asked for time off over Eid but are unable to give me exact dates. What should I do?

Eid is the festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Because Ramadan is part of a lunar calendar rather than a Gregorian one, the actual day on which Eid falls is determined by the sighting of the new moon and it is, therefore, not always possible for employees to be specific about which day(s) they would like to take as leave. As a result, you will need to be flexible here. It might be that employees request two days of annual leave to cover the two possible dates but then only end up taking the one on which Eid actually falls.

Do I have to consider other religions and their festivals too?

Yes. The key is to apply all policies equally and consistently. While each request for time off or special arrangements will turn on its own circumstances and business reasons, the best approach is to ensure your policy is neutral. There is no need to be afraid of discrimination claims if you act reasonably, fairly and in accordance with legitimate business reasons.

 Emma O'Leary

Emma O’Leary has been a solicitor in the UK for 10 years and is a consultant to business support services provider, ELAS. She specialises in employment law, with a particular focus on unfair dismissal and discrimination, and has conducted numerous tribunal hearings for small businesses and large enterprises. Emma also runs her own law firm, Essential Solicitors LLP, where she advises small-to-medium enterprises on commercial and corporate matters and also undertakes private client work.