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How can employers support workers during Ramadan?

As the holy Islamic month of Ramadan begins, millions of Muslims across the globe will start a month of fasting, foregoing food and drink between dawn and sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five 'pillars' of Islam, and it's reasonable to expect employers to make appropriate accommodations for believers, where their job allows. What sort of thing should they look out for?

It would be helpful if staff are made aware of when Ramadan is, how long it lasts, and what the fasting entails. While few Muslims would expect their colleagues to abstain from eating and drinking in front of them, particularly in workplaces where lunch is commonly eaten at one's desk, sensitivity is often appreciated. It's considerate to offer an acknowledgement of a fasting colleague, or a simple polite request to be excused for eating. On the other hand, working lunches, meetings based around shared food, staff meals and away days are best avoided if possible, or carried out with special arrangements for those who are fasting.

As part of a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan move forward by about 11 days every year. When Ramadan falls in the summer, fasting Muslims in Britain avoid food and drink for more than 16 hours each day. As a result, energy levels may flag for some as the day develops. Employers could offer support, where possible, by being flexible about working hours, work duties and break times. Many Muslims may prefer to start earlier, miss or reduce lunch breaks, and get home so they can end the day's fast with their families.

Ramadan is more than just avoiding food and drink when the sun is up; it's about cultivating spiritual purity and a virtuous lifestyle. Smoking is also prohibited, and many Muslims appreciate it if colleagues refrain from smoking in their presence when fasting. Many Muslims also wish to pray more often during Ramadan, typically for a few minutes two or three times a day. Having a quiet and private space to pray is often very much appreciated.

Eid al-Fitr is a three-day festival to mark the end of Ramadan. Employers should expect Muslim workers to seek annual leave at this time, though most will usually ask for leave for only the first of the three days.

Acas gives detailed information for employers on workplace issues surrounding Religion or belief discrimination and has published pdf icon Religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace [479kb]. Acas also operates an Equality and diversity advisory service which can help your organisation ensure it has the best policies and practices in place, and runs training programmes on Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information.

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