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Religious freedom at work: balancing staff rights with business needs

June 08, 2017

Ramadan has begun and will last until Sunday 25 June this year.  We offer a guide for employers on this religious observance of the Muslim community, including ways to support your workforce. The principles and good practice below can apply to all religious holidays and observances.

Ramadan And Work

Most employers are aware that they cannot discriminate against individuals due to their religious belief or any other protected characteristic. This does not mean that any religious observance or holiday should take precedence over legitimate business needs. However, any employer seeking to refuse a request must act reasonably and be well informed. This a brief summary of the issues commonly encountered by employers, with some practical suggestions to help you avoid such issues arising. 

Prayer and Fasting

Ramadan is considered a time of reflection, prayer, charity and involves a fast from dawn to sunset. Observers fast between dawn and sunset including all food, drinks and other vices. This means that those observing the fast are generally awake before dawn for Suhoor, a pre-dawn meal. Accordingly, they may be awake before 4am and the day can be long for them. 

Whilst they do not eat during the day, many observers will want to take some time for prayers which are said five times per day. After sunset observers gather for a family meal know as Iftar which often starts with dates. At the end of Ramadan, there is the celebration of Eid al-Fitr which is a religious holiday and celebration commonly associated with spending time with family.

Support your Staff 

As a good employer, you will want to consider supporting your staff during their observation of Ramadan. In each case you will want to look at the business needs. Remember that you are under no obligation to say yes to any request, but you may be at risk of a discrimination claim if you  refuse unreasonably. 
By properly considering the following questions you can reduce the prospects of any discrimination claims being made against your business and may find better results from a more committed staff.

  • If your business can accommodate flexible work times, why not fit around the Ramadan timescale with earlier starts and earlier finishes?  This will mean the effects of fatigue and fasting  are significantly reduced.
  • If you usually allow an hour for lunch, why not temporarily reduce this to twenty minutes (the legal minimum) allowing observers to work through part of their usual lunch break?
  • Do you have a quiet room which could be used by those wishing to pray?
  • Can you avoid ‘working lunches’ which observers could not participate in?
  • Can you avoid scheduling evening functions which observers could not participate in?
  • Consider your workforce and the likely requests for holiday at Eid. Will you have sufficient cover - if not, how will you decide who has to work?
  • What policies and procedures do you have in place for Ramadan or any other religious holidays and do your staff and managers understand them?
  • Do you know when the religious holidays are this year and whether you will likely have any staff request to accommodate their beliefs?
  • Do you have clear dialogue with your staff on holidays and other policies?
  • If you need to refuse a staff request, what is the business reason for that refusal?

Discrimination and religion is often a difficult topic and many workplaces simply fail to consider it before a problem arises.  Our team of expert employment solicitors can help with any queries, policies or training to help you better manage your workplace and get the most out of your staff.

Enquiring costs nothing with our FREE first advice service so call our team on 0117 929 0333 or email.

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