Thursday 23 April 2020 signifies the beginning of Ramadan, the holy month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims often commit to a period of fasting during daylight hours.
With the coronavirus causing issues across the UK, it is important to remember that some aspects of ordinary life continue whilst still feeling the impact of the virus. To this end, we have outlined five top tips below for supporting staff during this time:
As with most matters, is it important to have honest and open communication with staff who stand to be affected by their religious observance commitments during Ramadan, especially if they are working from home. It is important to remember that individuals may initially be hesitant to approach senior figures about how these commitments could impact their performance, therefore line managers should remain approachable and understanding of the situation.
Given the physical demands of daytime fasting, staff may require some adjustments to be made to their working routine during Ramadan even if they are working from home. This could include altering shift patterns, allowing staff to start and finish earlier in the day to aid with daytime fasting, or amending workplace duties to reduce the chance of fatigue impacting performance or increased risk of injury. It is important to remember that the requirements may affect each person differently and organisations should refrain from taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to flexible working arrangements.
Remember that it will be more difficult to monitor staff who are working from home and, in the absence of flexibility, may be less productive. Arguably, it is more important than ever that, if possible, organisations take steps to accommodate personal circumstances of their employees.
Consider that some individuals may wish to use their annual leave entitlement during Ramadan to allow them sufficient opportunity to rest during times of fasting, or to participate in the Eid celebrations that follow. Whilst it will be fair to expect staff to request time off in the usual way and provide sufficient notice, it may be wise to make an exception where possible to avoid discrimination, such as where requests occur on short notice or clash with other team members.
It may be difficult for an organisation to accommodate annual leave requests as a result of the coronavirus. That said, given the importance of this to those who celebrate it, it is important to be as accommodating as possible. If the full period requested cannot be permitted, could at least part of it be allowed? Would colleagues be in a position to handle increased workload and, it not, does work distribution need to be reconsidered?
Unfortunately, it can be the case that Muslim employees are at an increased risk of suffering religious harassment at work during Ramadan, either at the hands of third parties or their fellow colleagues. Other staff may have the misconception that Muslim employees are receiving ‘special privileges’, especially if they are given time off or increased flexibility during the outbreak, and organisations should work to dispel any notion of this. Also, make sure to remind staff that appropriate action will be taken against anyone found responsible for offensive behaviour and that ‘workplace banter’ will not be accepted as a legitimate excuse for discrimination.
Given the importance of Ramadan to Muslim employees, it would be advisable to outline the organisation’s approach in a religious observance policy, giving individuals a clear source of information on their rights at work during this time. Having said this, any policy will need to be inclusive, giving equal footing to other religious, in order to avoid further claims of religious discrimination.