Ramadhan is a holy month for Muslims, which this year started on 12th/13th April, depending on where you are in the world. This is the most important month in the Muslim calendar so during daylight hours in this month, Muslims fast, meaning they do not eat or drink anything, including water. As well as fasting physically, the fast is also a spiritual and mental one, where bad thoughts, lying, swearing and other such undesired actions are avoided. Muslims will make more of an effort to pray, including an extra evening prayer that only takes place during the month of Ramadhan.
According to Islam, all adults/those who have passed puberty must fast on each of the days of Ramadhan. However, there are some exceptions, such as people who are too unwell, menstruating, pregnant or travelling certain distances; they do not have to fast. Those that are fasting will usually have a late night/early morning meal called the Suhoor meal just before dawn. Slow energy-releasing foods such as porridge, dates and fruit will be consumed to last the day, until the Iftar time. This is at sunset when Muslims all around the world break their fasts, usually with dates and water before having a more substantial meal.
The Effects of Fasting While at Work
Muslims follow the Lunar rather than the Georgian calendar; hence the dates Ramadhan start seem to change each year. The last ten years or so has seen Ramadhan fall in the Summer months which have made it more difficult for those who work outdoors in jobs such as farming and construction. However, it has now started to fall when the weather is somewhat cooler, although the fast still lasts around 16 to 17 hours, which means it can cause issues such as fatigue and dehydration. In order to overcome this and support staff, employers should consult with their staff to see if any changes may be required.
This could be allowing staff to swap shifts or change their start and finish times temporarily; starting work a little later and finishing work later is ideal for some, whereas others may prefer to start earlier and go home a little earlier.
With those working on construction sites or other physically demanding roles, it is important to consider extra breaks for staff who are fasting and trying to ensure they are not working in direct heat as much as possible.
There may be more requests for holidays both during and just after the month of Ramadhan, for Eid ul Fitr the day to celebrate the end of Ramadhan and enjoy with family, friends and neighbours. Employers should try as much as possible to grant holiday requests as this engenders goodwill; although there is no legal requirement to do so.
During the Pandemic, where many people are working remotely, the need for separate areas to pray may not arise as workers are at home. However, where staff are at the workplace, a separate, clean, indoor area for prayer is also a useful consideration, although this may not always be practical in some workplaces such as construction sites.
It is also useful to acknowledge that if someone is fasting, they will have more energy during the morning rather than the afternoon, so important meetings could be scheduled in the morning.
Questions about fasting, and the effects, need to be treated with privacy.
If you have any concerns about the treatment of your staff during religious festivals, please feel free to call us on 03456 122144.
Saq Hussain, Employment Law Consultant