Ramadan presents a golden opportunity to reach out to fellow human beings and explain this essential practice of Islam to fellow work colleagues. Of course, without food for long hours, observing Ramadan can be a challenging experience in the workplace. In the UK today, there have been several examples of good practice where considerate employers go out of their way to cater for Muslim employees, and use the time as an opportunity for other employees to understand other faiths.
Tips for coping and sharing Ramadan at the workplace
Taking time off to break fast
Employees who are fasting may ask to take their lunch break at a later time to break their fast. Employers may be justified in refusing such a request if this would conflicts with legitimate business needs which they are unable to meet in any other ways. However, if they are unable to objectively justify such a refusal, this could amount to unlawful indirect discrimination.
An employee working in a small corner shop asks to take a late lunch break around sunset to break his fast. There are only two employees and the time for breaking the fast coincides with the time when school children are coming out of school and the shop is particularly busy. It may be reasonable to refuse the request if the shop cannot cope without both staff. However, it may not be reasonable for a supermarket with a large number of staff to refuse such a request.
As a Muslim, am I now entitled to time off for my daily and Friday prayers, as well as time off to break my fast during Ramadan?
Your employers are not obliged to provide you with time off to perform your prayers or break your fast; however, under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, they may be acting unlawfully if they have a policy which prohibits you from taking such time off which cannot be reasonably justified. So if your employer has a policy which states that all employees must take their lunch break at a fixed time, this may disadvantage Muslim men who wish to take their lunch break a little later on Fridays to attend Jumu’ah prayers at the mosque. This policy will amount to indirect discrimination unless the employer can justify that the policy is a reasonable response to a legitimate business aim.
In general, staff are entitled to a rest break of not less than 20 minutes where working time is more than 6 hours. Some employees may be able to use their normal break entitlement to pray or break their fast. However, if extra time is required, you can request that your rest break coincide with your daily prayer times or, if necessary, request extra time off with the offer to make it up later.
Your employer has a duty to consider your request, and should try and be as flexible as possible, so long as it does not interfere with their business requirements. If they cannot meet your request, they should provide reasons for their refusal.
You should discuss a number of factors with your employer, such as the availability of other staff to cover for you if necessary, the possibility of making up the time later on, the resources available to your employer, the nature of your work and whether the business will be adversely affected by your absence at particular times of the day.