This week, Muslims around the world will be celebrating the start of the month of Ramadhan. As a practicing Muslim, but also with my ‘employment/discrimination practitioner’ hat on, I thought it would be helpful to deal with some of the most common questions from employers and employees.
Why should employers and colleagues even care about this?
This is a really important question, but one that is often not asked openly, so let’s start here! Workplaces are the sum total of all of the people within them; clearly, making employees feel valued and respected is an important aspect of building an inclusive and supportive environment. A recent study on ‘workplace belonging’ showed that feeling a sense of belonging led to a 56% increase in performance, and a 75% reduction in sickness absence. It is important that all employees feel valued, and part of that includes understanding significant religious events (in a variety of religions) that might impact on some of them. Recognising Ramadhan in the workplace clearly shouldn’t take place in a vacuum – but should be part of a wider initiative to recognise a number of significant religious occasions.
What is Ramadhan anyway?
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims are required to refrain from all food and water from dawn to sunset. But it is far more than just a requirement to feel hungry! Ramadhan is a very spiritual time for Muslims, when they try and increase their connection to their faith and to God, as well as reflecting on their lives and their goals. As such, some Muslims may try to attend the Mosque during the evenings, or spend more time in religious worship. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, which involves special prayers, gifts, and time with family and friends.
What effect does Ramadhan have on employees?
The answer to this question will inevitably vary from person to person – some people are able to fast and carry out their day-to-day life (and work) with little or no impact, whilst others find it a bit more challenging! The key for employers is to communicate with their employees to understand what their challenges might be, and what can be done to assist – but starting the conversation will go a long way to creating an environment where such issues can be discussed and addressed.
What can employers do to support their employees?
Linking to the last question, making all employees aware of this religious event (as part of a wider recognition of other religious events as well) and providing a brief overview, and inviting Muslims employees to reach out to their managers to discuss any issues, is probably the most beneficial step. This not only helps Muslim employees directly, but also means that their colleagues have an understanding of the situation as well; they might want to reconsider arranging a team building lunch, or a client event that revolves around food during this time, if that is possible, in order not to exclude their Muslim colleagues.
Thereafter, employers can consider requests for working from home, or more flexibility with an employee’s hours, so they can work around their religious observances.
What about requests for time off? Why is it that some people don’t know in advance when they will be celebrating Eid?
Employees may well receive more requests for time off during this period, but particularly request for time off to celebrate Eid with family and friends. It is important to be aware that the Muslim calendar is lunar based, and lunar months are either 29 or 30 days, depending on when the new moon is ‘sighted’. As the quality of astronomical data has improved, it has become easier to predict when the new month will start, and therefore, when Eid will occur. However, there are still times when the data suggests that it might be possible for a new moon to be visible in the sky in a particular location, but that doesn’t mean it is actually seen! Clearly, not all employers can accommodate requests for time off at short notice, but discussions between employer and employee often leads to a practical and effective solution.
I hope that this brief summary has been helpful, although I appreciate that it does not (and cannot) go into detail about specific issues that employers or employees might face. Do feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss any of these issues further.
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