Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar cycles. It is a sacred period for Muslims during which they abstain from pleasures (including food), pray and come together as families to celebrate.

With almost three million Muslims living in the UK, the impact of Ramadan spreads far and wide. This will include  many workplaces. So with employees feeling the effects of fasting, and requiring increased time and space for prayer, how should employers handle this?

Be ahead of the game before Ramadan

As an employer, the best action you can take is to talk to any of your staff who might be affected before Ramadan starts, and agree how best to accommodate their needs. While you don’t have a legal obligation to grant requests, there are several ways you could still fall foul of the requirements to avoid discrimination on religious grounds; so be mindful of this.

Also, be aware that some staff members who would otherwise participate in the fast may not do so for very personal reasons. These could include a health condition, medication or a female staff member during her menstrual cycle. So tread with caution around these conversations.

The main Ramadan requests you may face are for flexible working hours, a prayer room (or time off to go and pray), staggered breaks and annual leave. The key, in most cases is to act reasonably, and not deny a request without good justification.

Managing Muslims fasting during Ramadan

Depending on the moon, fasting will begin on the 15 or 16 May in 2018, and lasts for one lunar month. Practising Muslims will fast between dawn and sunset each day. As summer is almost upon us, that can mean up to 18 hours without being able to eat or drink (or, if applicable, smoke).

For many fasters, this will lead to lethargy as the day progresses and quite possibly irritability. Most of us have experienced feeling ‘hangry’ for far less!

Be sensitive to this. If you can, avoid scheduling team meetings, training sessions or tasks which require high levels of concentration in the afternoon. And while you wouldn’t ban team lunches or block someone bringing in a box of Krispy Kremes for their birthday, again, a bit of sensitivity wouldn’t go amiss.

Permitting staggered breaks including unusual lunchtimes may be helpful here, and you should allow these as a long as they do not adversely impact your business. Failure to do so without a good reason could be construed as religious discrimination.

Eid and annual leave

To mark the end of Ramadan and of the fasting, there is a three-day religious festival called Eid al-Fitr. You may well receive holiday requests from Muslim employees during the last 10 days of Ramadan and during Eid.

These should be dealt with in line with your normal holiday policy. But do remember that the major Christian religious holidays of Christmas and Easter are already marked with bank holidays. Therefore, with good planning, it may be both desirable and possible to prioritise holiday requests from Muslim staff at this time. You do still have a business to run though, and business needs may ultimately determine the outcome.

Alison Schreiber runs The HR Dept Durham and Darlington franchise, and works with a number of businesses across PBP. For more info, visit HR Dept Durham and Darlington or call Alison on 01325 526036 or 07535 853226.