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Religion in the workplace

As we are now into the second week of Ramadan, this has prompted some questions from our clients around religion in the workplace and how employees can best be supported.

In respect of Ramadan, the dates of Ramadan change each year, this year Ramadan (for most people) commenced on Sunday 5 May 2019. This can vary slightly depending upon regional customs and when the new moon is first sighted. It lasts for 29-30 days and ends with the celebration of Eid-Ul-Fitr. The Islamic calendar is lunar, which means that days start at sunset.

Muslims may choose to celebrate in different ways, but for many, it’s a month of fasting during daylight hours. Smoking is also prohibited, and many Muslims appreciate it if colleagues refrain from smoking or eating in their presence when fasting. Many Muslims also wish to pray more often during Ramadan, typically for a few minutes two or three times a day. Having a quiet and private space to pray is often very much appreciated.

Fasting

As part of a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan move forward by about 11 days every year. When Ramadan falls in the summer, fasting Muslims in Britain avoid food and drink for more than 16 hours each day. As a result, energy levels may flag for some as the day develops. Understanding from employers and colleagues is helpful, particularly if you can offer support where possible, by being flexible about working hours, work duties and break times. Many Muslims may prefer to start work earlier, miss or reduce lunch breaks, and get home so they can end the day’s fast with their families.

Also, it is only polite and respectful for colleagues to avoid offering food and drink to those who fast. Small gestures, such as placing the office biscuits out of sight or dispensing with the “fat Friday” cake run for the month of fasting is greatly appreciated.

If you are organising an outing or maybe a social event, then do bear in mind those employees who may be unable to attend due to their religious beliefs.

Prayer

If required, where possible allow employees additional breaks for prayer or worship or facilitate break times to coincide with any obligation to pray at a particular time of day.

Time Off

Whilst there is no obligation to automatically give staff time off for religious holidays or festivals or extra time or a place to pray, it’s a great show of support if you can be flexible with your employees, as with any temporary or flexible working request, you can refuse them if you won’t be able to meet your customers’ needs.

Your staff could request time off work during Ramadan or to celebrate Eid, in the same way, they would at any other time of year. Again, annual leave can be granted on a first come first served basis and should not interfere with your operations.

Dress

Many items of clothing, jewellery and also beards are often worn for religious or cultural reasons. In certain circumstances, they can be banned in the workplace if the reason is to achieve a legitimate aim. However, a ban could disadvantage certain employees and would amount to indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination is not unlawful if it’s a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim. H&S is a legitimate aim and should always be the first consideration, ahead of faith and fashion. If you need staff clean shaven to wear PPE then you can enforce a beard ban and it’s also worth noting that you are not necessarily expected to provide more expensive PPE that would accommodate a beard.

For any specific guidance, we would urge you to contact one of our HR Consultants to discuss further.

To arrange an appointment with one of our HR consultants or to discuss religion in the workplace please contact us.

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