The UK is well-known for its broad representation of faiths in both our daily lives and at work. With Ramadan approaching on 6 June, employers should be aware of any measures they need to take to accommodate Muslim staff during this period, especially since these employees may also be fasting.
It is essential that employers understand where they stand legally on this issue. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the grounds of their religion or belief. This may take the form of direct discrimination, for example, an employer treating an individual less favourably than someone with a different religion or belief because of his or her religion or belief, or indirect discrimination, which may take place where an employer’s procedures or practices have an adverse effect on particular religious groups.
Allow for religious observance
It is always sensible to put policies in place allowing for religious observance. Employers should consult with employees before setting out any guidelines on what the organisation will consider reasonable but they should provide appropriate locations for members of staff to conduct periods of observance to the extent this is possible. Organisations need to strike a balance between fostering a tolerant, open approach and making sure religious observance doesn’t have a detrimental impact on productivity.
Be sensitive towards fasting employees
Employees should not be compelled to attend events that are centred on food and drink. Typically this may involve giving them the choice of opting out of events such as conferences and staff nights out. Employers may even wish to consider holding such events outside Ramadan.
Members of staff should also be encouraged to act sensitively towards fasting employees. For instance, this could involve asking fasting employee whether they object to food or drink being consumed in front of them.
Encourage flexible working
Those observing Ramadan may need some flexibility around their hours of work. This could involve working through their lunch break to facilitate a late start or early finish. Employers should also be flexible about an employee’s break period, which may need to be taken at a different time, while making it clear that any arrangement is temporary in nature. This helps to prevent any arguments from the employees that these flexible arrangements should continue permanently.
Be careful about taking disciplinary action
Where productivity or absence issues arise with fasting employees, employers should carry out a full and proper investigation. For example, productivity levels may drop later in the day where a particular employee is struggling due to fasting. Employers should acknowledge this and try to make adjustments rather than taking any form of disciplinary action. Where such action is taken, employers should remember that they run the risk of indirect discrimination claims.
Develop a policy for dealing with Eid leave requests
It is common for Muslim employees to request a period of leave at the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr. This date varies from year to year which can result in employees making holiday requests at short notice. Requests of this nature should only be rejected in circumstances where the employer has a robust business case to justify the position they have taken.
Organisations could consider adopting a set of policies and procedures setting out guidelines for leave ar
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