What can employers do to support employees who are observing Ramadan during the coronavirus pandemic?

During the month of Ramadan, which in 2020 will last from the evening of 23 April to the evening of 23 May, many Muslims will fast each day between sunrise and sunset, and perform additional prayers and other religious duties. Employers should be aware of the potential effects on employees of not eating or drinking during the day, combined with a change to sleep patterns, and should consider taking steps to support them.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will mean that many employees' experience of observing Ramadan will be very different this year, in particular because of the social distancing measures in place. For example, it will not be possible for people to gather with others from outside their household for Iftar (the meal to break the fast each evening).

Employers should not assume that all Muslim employees will be observing Ramadan in the same way, or that those who are fasting will want the employer to make special arrangements for them. Employers could encourage all employees to discuss with them any impact that they think fasting could have on their work, and any measures that could be helpful.

Many employees will be working at home while observing Ramadan this year. This may mean that there is greater scope for flexibility in terms of their working hours. However, there could also be potential issues relating to employees' wellbeing, such as working for long periods without interruption. Employers should encourage all employees working at home to take regular breaks, but this may be particularly beneficial for employees who are fasting.

Depending on the nature of the work, and the impact of coronavirus on the employer's organisation, steps that employers could consider to support employees who are observing Ramadan include:

  • arranging shifts to accommodate employees' preferences where possible, for example so that an employee can finish work in time to break the fast at sunset;
  • accommodating requests for annual leave;
  • making colleagues aware that it is Ramadan and encouraging them to be supportive of their fasting colleagues, in particular by not offering them food or drink (where employees are still in the workplace);
  • enabling employees to arrange their working days to allow for lower energy and concentration levels in the afternoon, for example by scheduling important meetings or work involving operating machinery in the morning, and tasks that are less physically or mentally demanding later in the day; and
  • allowing flexible working, for example an earlier start time, a short lunch break or extra breaks for prayer.

Because of the coronavirus crisis, employers in key areas such as health and social care may be less able this year to accommodate requests for flexibility in working hours or for annual leave. Employers are not obliged to agree to such requests from employees observing Ramadan, provided that they can objectively justify any refusal.

Employers that provide a prayer room for employees attending the workplace should ensure that social distancing measures are observed. They may need to consider whether additional space could be made available for employees for prayer and reflection. Where it is not possible to maintain social distancing, it may be necessary for prayer rooms to close.