Ramadan in the Workplace: Keys to Understanding and Accommodation

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This year Ramadan, the month-long religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide, began on June 18 and ends on July 17. Because federal, state and local laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on a job applicant’s or employee’s religious beliefs and require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations, US employers should make sure they understand the potential ramifications of Ramadan in the workplace and make any necessary accommodations by keeping these five tips in mind:

1. Understand What Ramadan Observance Entails

As part of their observance of Ramadan, many Muslims are required to fast and refrain from eating and drinking as well as sinful behavior from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is also a time of spiritual reflection and in addition to daily prayers, special evening prayers are conducted at sunset to correspond with breaking the fast.

2. Enforce Discrimination and Harassment Policies

An employer should make sure to demonstrate to its workforce that harassing and discriminatory conduct against Muslims will not be tolerated, and the employer will enforce its discrimination and harassment policies to the fullest extent. Such conduct may include:

• Subjecting Muslims to derogatory comments and slurs based on their religion.
• Subjecting Muslims to harassing cartoons or writings.
• Failing to provide Muslims with reasonable religious accommodations.
• Directing a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf.

An employer should ensure it is aware of any conduct that violates its policies and follow up on all complaints with an investigation and discipline if needed.

3. Be Prepared to Grant Reasonable Accommodations

An employer should be prepared to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who request them in connection with their Ramadan observance. Reasonable accommodations may include:

• Flexible hours or a change in shifts which will allow workers extra time to pray, particularly at sunset.
• Additional breaks to address low energy levels due to fasting.
• Meal breaks at different times of the day than usual, such as after sunset when food is permitted.
• Requests for time off or leave for Ramadan observance or to celebrate Eid, which is the end of Ramadan and an important religious holiday involving prayer, family and the giving of gifts).

When faced with a reasonable accommodation request based on Ramadan observance, an employer should make a good-faith effort to engage in the interactive process with the employee and see if the request can be granted without causing an undue hardship.

4. Provide Training to Employees and Supervisors

In order to enforce its discrimination and harassment policies and make sure supervisors are aware of their obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, an employer should provide training to all employees and supervisors on the meaning of Ramadan and what its observance entails. An employer should also stress that it seeks to maintain a workplace that is tolerant and respectful of those who observe.

5. Be Sensitive When Enforcing Workplace Policies

During Ramadan, employers and supervisors may want to consider being more tolerant than usual when enforcing workplace policies and conducting daily business. For example, a worker who is fasting all day from sunrise to sunset may be unusually tired and exhibit lower productivity levels during the time that he or she is fasting. An employer or supervisor should consider allowing the employee to make up any lost work after Ramadan ends or after he or she has broken the fast.

Also, managers should avoid scheduling performance appraisals and critical meetings late in the day when the employee’s energy may be at its lowest point. Moreover, it may be helpful to avoid requiring employees observing Ramadan to work excessive hours or overtime during this month.

An employer also may want to consider refraining from scheduling social events, work meetings, trainings or conferences involving food during Ramadan as this may be especially difficult for, and offensive to, Muslim workers who are fasting.

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