Ramadan rights – key legal considerations for employers

March 17, 2023
Richard Linskell


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March 22nd sees the beginning of Ramadan when people of Muslim faith observe a period of fasting, prayer and reflection.

It is important for employers to create a supportive environment for staff during the Islamic holy month, whilst also considering the needs of the wider workforce.

Richard Linskell is an employment Partner at gunnercooke with 30 years’ experience of helping businesses avoid or resolve employment disputes.

In this article Richard briefly looks at some of the key legal considerations for UK employers:

“Ramadan is the most sacred month for Muslims and businesses should consider carefully how to cater for it given its potential impact on employee availability and productivity.

“Creating an open and inclusive culture is important, so employers should act with sensitivity and discretion when it comes to an individual’s religious beliefs and practice.

Anticipate the need for flexibility

Planning around Ramadan is key. Line managers should be briefed that during this period they may see more requests for annual leave or additional flexibility around breaks and working hours.

“Whilst Ramadan does not provide any additional employment rights beyond the existing duty not to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief, it makes good business sense to anticipate these requirements so you can accommodate them where possible.

“If legitimate business reasons mean you can’t meet all requests, this needs to be explained to employees in a considerate way and alternatives discussed where possible.

“A failure to show flexibility could leave an employer liable for discrimination if the decision cannot be shown to be proportionate.

“Also, if a request is not treated with due consideration, or an agreed arrangement is reneged on, then an employee could treat this as a breach of the mutual duty of trust and confidence and resign, claiming constructive dismissal.  If a tribunal finds the employer to have breached the duty, the dismissal will be unfair.”

Consider the wider workforce

“Whilst aiming to meet the needs of employees observing Ramadan is important, employers must maintain a consistent approach and ensure their actions do not place unreasonable extra burdens on other staff.

“If you are not mindful of this and apply changes that unfairly impact non-Muslims, a business is at risk being open to claims of discrimination against them on grounds of religion or belief.

“This risk extends beyond working hours and into aspects such as permission for remote working, temporary conversion of shared workspaces for prayer or any other action that could be seen as creating a disadvantage to other employees.

“Awareness is therefore important. Once an understanding has been reached, and with the employee’s agreement, relevant colleagues should be carefully briefed on the impact and rationale for any temporary adjustment to an employee’s working hours or processes.

Engagement is vital

“To avoid legal issues arising, it is sensible to talk to Muslim employees about how they would like to be supported by the business and their colleagues.

“This may include engaging with co-workers, so they understand the potential effects of fasting on concentration and productivity and so things like overtime requests, meeting availability and team lunches are handled sensitively.

“Ultimately employers should be responsive when it comes to Ramadan observance and other religious and social matters.

“Being a considerate, flexible employer is key to positive employee relations and maintaining a happy and engaged workforce.”

If you have any concerns relating to your organisation’s approach to Ramadan, or any other employment matter, then please contact Richard Linskell.