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01 Jun 2017

Discrimination in the Workplace


Helping staff who are fasting for Ramadan

HR manager at HardingEvans, Nikki Thomas, discusses how to support colleagues during fasting month of Ramadan

During this period, Muslims are prohibited from consuming food and drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset for a period of 30 days. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with the Eid al-Fitr – the Festival of Fast-breaking, which sees Muslims enjoy a three-day period where they celebrate and exchange gifts.

If they haven’t done so already, many employers have decided on their approach to accommodating the needs of colleagues who observe this religious festival.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from any form of unfavourable treatment because of race or religion/belief and this covers everything from direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

So, while employers aren’t necessarily obliged to introduce special measures for colleagues who are fasting during the month of Ramadan, they must ensure that those colleagues are not treated any less favourably because of their religious beliefs and practices.

When considering granting requests for time off, as always, the firm will need to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the employee and requests should be dealt with in the usual way.

However, there must be an objective and justifiable business reason for an employer to deny a leave request so as not to give rise to any potential discrimination claims ie it is not justifiable to refuse a request for leave because the request relates to time off for Ramadan.

At Harding Evans we have worked with our colleagues who are practicing the faith to identify some pro-active ways in which we can support them during their period of religious observance.

We have introduced flexibility with starting times and made temporary adjustments to working hours and provided additional leave entitlement for Eid celebrations.

We also ensure that all colleagues at the firm undertake mandatory equality and diversity training to help provide moral as well as practical support.

Due to the fact that observing employees are fasting in daylight hours, and not helped by the fact that Ramadan falls in the summer months this year, it is likely that they may experience periods where their energy levels will dip.

As a result of this employers may notice that productivity is also affected.

Much like leave requests, employers must deal with this in the usual manner as they would for similarly underperforming employees who are not Muslims fasting for Ramadan. Imposing any unfavourable alternative action would give rise to a discrimination claim.

Religion and belief is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and festivals like Ramadan provide an opportunity not just to support those who observe them, but to also to learn and understand more about colleagues and their faith.

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