How HR leaders can be inclusive for employees observing Ramadan

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk each day -

A well-balanced workforce should reflect the diversity of society, and that means leaders should accommodate the needs of every religion and culture.

Traditionally, the UK’s public holidays are focused on Christian traditions and festivals, which can feel exclusionary to employees of other religions. With the month of Ramadan already underway, HR leaders need to act now to support their Muslim employees.

A good first step is open communication and dialogue. HR leaders should express support in advance for those observing Ramadan, and encourage employees to discuss any needs with their managers. 

For those unfamiliar, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk each day. This involves refraining from all food and drink during daylight hours. Fasting can be physically and mentally challenging, so inclusive employers should be flexible with working patterns. 

This could mean allowing later start times to accommodate pre-dawn meals, allowing for more flexibility around breaks during the day, or allowing some work from home. 

These don't have to be permanent arrangements, but will send an important signal to staff from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The human body's natural dips during a dawn-to-dusk fast make remaining fully productive for eight straight hours extremely difficult. A bit of versatility can ensure employees remain engaged while avoiding burnout.

It's also important to show respect for religious practices around Ramadan. Meetings should avoid being scheduled during times when employees may need to break their fasts. Designate areas where those who are fasting can take momentary rests. Simple gestures of accommodation can have a dramatic impact.

Of course, every employee's situation is different. Muslims with medical conditions that preclude full fasting may need specific allowances. Others may continue extensive fasting without special requirements. An individualised approach led by open conversations is best.  

With Easter falling with the same time frame as Ramadan, leave requests may be higher in March.

This could cause operational problems if too many staff are out at the same time, and also disgruntled employees if holidays are refused. 

Bosses should encourage staff to plan ahead and put in leave requests early, and award them on a first come, first served basis.

An employee has the right to request flexible working arrangements if they have 26 weeks' service, and an employer has three months to respond to this request. However, from April 2024, workers will be entitled to make these requests from day one of employment, and employers will have only two months to respond.

For any worker wishing to use a formal flexible working request for a festival like Ramadan, they will need to plan ahead to account for the allowed response time. Employers are not obliged to agree, but will need to justify any refusal.

Unless there are substantial operational constraints on the business, an employer would be advised to make informal arrangements with workers and not to push them down this formal route. 

If someone just seeks a bit of short-term flexibility for something like Ramadan, then forcing a formal process is also non-inclusive behaviour.

Fasting can also affect an individual's productivity or morale, so ensure that any dip in performance isn't related to fasting before embarking on a performance management process.

Being an inclusive employer isn’t about checking boxes. For Ramadan and other religious observations, this is about more than just legal compliance. It's about creating an environment where every employee feels welcomed and supported to practise their faith freely without sacrifice to their careers.

By Jim Moore, employee relations expert at HR consultants Hamilton Nash