Ramadan: fasting and other considerations for employers to be aware of

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In this insight, we look at what possible impacts fasting during Ramadan can have on employees, and how teams can best support those who are participating in this fast.

What is Ramadan and why do Muslims fast?

Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar calendar, the Islamic months fall 10 days earlier each Georgian year. This year Ramadan is anticipated to fall on the evening of 22 March and will last for 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.

Ramadan is one of the most important months for Muslims, as Muslims participate in fasting for a period of 29 or 30 days.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan forms part of the five pillars of Islam and is considered an obligatory practise among healthy adult Muslims who are of sound mind and temperament. Fasting is observed by abstaining from (among other things) eating and drinking between dawn and dusk. There are several exceptions to this, with those who are ill, menstruating, pregnant or travelling being under no obligation to fast.

The duration of the fast varies across the globe, as the length of a fast depends on the daylight hours of each country. For example, Muslims in the UK will take their first meal at around 4:30am, and they will fast until sunset which is expected to fall around 6:30pm. However, as daylight savings hours will fall within Ramadan, the length of the fast increases with each day. For instance, the first fast of Ramadan shall last for 14 hours and 52 minutes, while the 29th day being the ultimate or penultimate fast (depending on the signing of the crescent moon) will last for 16 hours.

How will fasting impact employees?

Fasting can often impact an employees’ physical and mental performance (for the first few days anyway). A report from the Muslim Census Team found that employees that are Muslim are twice as likely to stick with employers who are supportive during Ramadan and therefore it is always good to have open communication about any possible adjustments.

What can employers do to help employees partaking in Ramadan?

Helping employees who observe fasting can be as simple as just being mindful of how long a meeting is diarised for, and at what times, as a 30-minute meeting may be more manageable in terms of concentration, compared to a 60-minute meeting at 9am for an employee who is fasting (and also without coffee!).

Allowing fasting employees to take intermittent rest breaks throughout the day will help with their ability to perform at work – maybe allow them to replace their lunch hour with a 5 or 10 minute break every hour to help combat the fatigue that may occur from working long, consistent hours with no food or water.

Where possible, it may be worth employers offering flexible working patterns to those who are fasting during Ramadan. For instance, if it’s possible for them to start their working day as close to sunrise as possible, then this will mean employees will have more energy as they will have recently eaten and had a drink, versus beginning work hours after their fast started by which time they may be less productive.

Away from fasting, many employers may already have a dedicated multi-faith area for contemplation or prayer but if not, and where possible, employers should try to provide a safe and quiet space/ prayer room as those observing Ramadan will most likely engage in more prayer throughout the day.

The above should be considered between the employee and their line manager, while also taking into account the wider team. Employers should manage team expectations to ensure any flexibility does not place an unreasonable extra burden or detriment to other employees, but also that they are not treating the employee observing Ramadan any less favourably because of the request(s) they have made.

Do employers need to implement the above for every employee observing Ramadan?

In short, no. Employers will likely find that not all employees observing fasting will want their work to be impacted and therefore may not request any of the above considerations. There are also some employees of Muslim faith who may not be fasting for a variety of reasons, such as because they are menstruating or for medical reasons, and they may not feel comfortable sharing the reasons for this with their employer.

Communication is key

Above all, it’s important for employers to communicate openly, and where requested confidentially, with employees who will be fasting before and during Ramadan to see if they would like any support during the month. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you want to find out more, employees will feel valued when employers make a conscious effort to try to understand what is important to them.

This article was written alongside Tasneem Shaffique and Rubena Rahman.

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