Employment lawyer issues advice about Ramadan

13 March 2023

With Ramadan beginning on March 22, a leading West Midlands legal firm has issued advice and guidelines for employers whose staff wish to observe this important Muslim holy month.

Jayne Holliday, Legal Director in the employment law team at West Midlands law firm Higgs LLP, said with many Muslims having to balance work commitments with their religious observance, it is important for employers to carefully consider how they can support their staff over the next few weeks.

She said all employees have the right to request flexible working for any reason as long as they have at least 26 weeks’ service - and warned if employers reject a flexible working application with no justification they risk being subject to claims of discrimination.

In the case of refusing flexible work during Ramadan, an employee could make a claim for discrimination on the basis of religion or religious belief.

“If an employer wants to reject a flexible working request then they must state one or more of the eight prescribed reason, for example that the requested change may have a detrimental impact on the efficiency of the business,” Jayne said.

“However, in my opinion, as flexible working requests during Ramadan are only for a short period of time, that will make them more difficult for employers to reject.”

Jayne said the decision as to whether or not a request should be rejected depends on the employee’s job role and the circumstances and resources of the employer’s business. 

For example, if a business has eight employees and five of those want to work fewer hours during Ramadan, the employer could have grounds to reject flexible working requests as the impact would be too great.

She recommends that employees:

  • Make a request for flexibility in writing and ensure the request is dated

  • Demonstrate they have considered the impact it would have on the business and on the workload of colleagues

  • Give as much notice as possible.

For employers, she recommends:

  • Meet with employees in a private place to discuss their request and ensure that meetings are minuted 

  • Allow employees to have a colleague to accompany them at any meetings

  • Confirm the decision in writing – the decision must be communicated to the employee within three months of the employer receiving the request

  • Try and reach a compromise with the employee if the flexible working request is rejected.

Employees in physically demanding work may wish to reduce their hours during Ramadan or ask to work in a different area of the business. Others may request opportunities for prayer during the working day or change shifts to accommodate their needs.

Anyone working six hours is required to take one 20-minute break under the Working Time Regulations 1998, but employers could split break times into smaller ones, to enable Muslim employees to pray.

Jayne said businesses should always comply with the Equality Act 2010 and advised they introduce a company policy on religious holidays that caters for all religions. 

However, it is important to note that if staff want to reduce their hours, their pay may well also be adjusted.

“Employees should be aware that if their hours reduce then employers are under no obligation to pay the usual salary. Sometimes people don’t realise that,” she added.

Ramadan begins on Wednesday, March 22 and ends on Friday, April 21, when Eid al-Fitr is celebrated to mark the end of daylight fasting.

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