Ramadan and the Workplace

Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 18, 2015 marks the start of Ramadan for Muslims worldwide and it will end on July 17, 2015. As part of their observance, 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 worship. In addition to daily prayers, special evening prayers are conducted at sunset to correspond with breaking the fast.

In the United States, federal, state and local laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on an individual's religious beliefs and also require employers to attempt to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace if doing so would not create an undue hardship. In light of this, if an employer has a Muslim employee, it may be critical to take Ramadan observance into account and make sure that it maintains a workplace that is tolerant, accommodating and respectful of those who observe.

An employer should be prepared to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who request them in connection with Ramadan observance. Reasonable accommodations may include flexible hours or a change in shifts that will allow workers extra time to pray, particularly at sunset. Further, workers may request additional breaks to address low energy levels due to fasting or meal breaks on a different schedule, such as after sunset when food is permitted. Workers may request a break, particularly at sunset, to break the fast and engage in additional prayers. Moreover, an employer may be faced with a request for time off or leave to celebrate Eid, which is the end of Ramadan and an important religious holiday involving prayer, family time and the giving of gifts.

When faced with a request for a reasonable accommodation 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 and the accommodation provided without causing an undue hardship.

Additionally, it is important for an employer to take all necessary steps to prevent discrimination against Muslim workers, particularly during Ramadan. In addition to enforcing an employer's discrimination and harassment policies, this may involve providing additional training to employees and supervisors on the meaning of Ramadan and what observance entails. Further, employers and supervisors may want to consider being more tolerant than usual if a worker exhibits lower productivity levels during the time that he or she is fasting and avoid scheduling performance appraisals late in the day when energy may be at its lowest point. Also, it may help to be sensitive and not require employees observing Ramadan to work excessive hours or overtime while observing. Moreover, an employer should refrain 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.

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