How to manage time off and flexible working during Ramadan?

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During the month of Ramadan, 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.

In 2023 Ramadan is observed between 22nd March and 21st April.

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.

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 the employee can be at home 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;
  • Not scheduling work-related social events during Ramadan;
  • Not expecting fasting employees to meet with clients over lunch;
  • 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.

Do staff have a legal right to take time off for religious purposes?

Unless specifically stated in the employment contract, there is no legal obligation for employers to give staff time off for any religious reasons.

However, you should try to accommodate any holiday requests, requests for unpaid leave or temporary change to the employees working pattern as this would benefit both the business and the employee. Employees may be operating on less sleep and food during Ramadan, so may struggle to perform at their best, by allowing them to work flexibly you will be assisting them to manage Ramadan and work which is likely to enable them to perform their role better.

What if I need to refuse the flexible working request / request for unpaid leave / holiday request?

You can still refuse a flexible working request by law, but only for one of the following reasons:

  • It will cost your business too much
  • You cannot reorganise the work among other staff
  • You cannot recruit more staff
  • There will be a negative effect on quality
  • There will be a negative effect on the business’ ability to meet customer demand
  • There will be a negative effect on performance
  • There’s not enough work for your employee to do when they’ve requested to work
  • There are planned changes to the business, for example, you intend to reorganise or change the business and think the request will not fit with these plans

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