Muslims around the world are celebrating the month-long religious holiday of Ramadan from June 5 to July 5. As part of their observance, many Muslims are required to fast and refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. Many will also partake in daily prayers (up to five times a day, including before dawn and at sunset) and special evening prayers.
Since federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on sincerely held religious beliefs, it is critical for an employer to accommodate Muslim employees observing Ramadan. Here are 10 tips for an employer to accommodate Ramadan in the workplace.
1. Enforce Strong EEO Policies
It is critical for an employer to develop, implement and enforce strong policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on religion and make sure that such conduct against Muslim employees is not tolerated. Such conduct may include:
• Subjecting Muslim employees to derogatory comments or offensive slurs based on religion;
• Failing to provide Muslim workers with reasonable accommodations such as the opportunity to pray at work; or
• Forcing a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf.
It is also important to have a reasonable accommodation policy stating that all reasonable accommodation requests will be considered, and the employer will have a meaningful dialogue in good faith about the requested accommodation. Employers are required to provide reasonable religious accommodations unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Your company should make sure that such policies are well-publicized and distributed to all employees and managers, and made part of the employee handbook.
2. Encourage Flexible Hours
It may be a good idea to offer employees observing Ramadan the chance to work flexible hours and come in later in the day and leave later as well. This will allow these employees the chance to sleep later as Ramadan requires that employees pray very late at night or early in the morning.
An employer also should consider allowing employees the chance to work thorough their lunch break since they will not be eating or drinking during the day and either will start their work day later or end earlier. Offering flexible break times also may assist employees during this spiritual time and allow them to pray. If an employee works in shifts, the employer should consider permitting shift swapping to accommodate observant employees.
3. Allow Religious Observance
As part of Ramadan observance, Muslim employees may be required to pray multiple times a day, particularly during working hours. Therefore, an employer should consider setting aside a special room to give employees the privacy and quiet needed to pray. Also, an employer may want to consider granting employees time off to attend prayers at a local mosque.
4. Consider Permitting Telecommuting
Since many Muslim employees may suffer from low energy due to fasting all day, it may be a good idea to offer such employees the opportunity to telecommute so they can work within the comfort of their homes, be more productive and avoid wasting time and energy on commuting to work.
5. Avoid Scheduling Meetings over Meals
An employer should be sensitive during Ramadan and avoid scheduling meetings over meals or compelling employees to attend events involving eating and drinking. If an employer must do so, it should provide Muslim employees with the opportunity to opt out without being penalized.
Likewise, you should avoid scheduling team lunches or dinners during Ramadan as this may be particularly offensive to Muslim employees. Supervisors and co-workers may want to be respectful and minimize eating and drinking in front of fasting employees.
6. Consider Modifying Dress Codes
An employer should attempt to be flexible and provide reasonable religious accommodations to Muslim employees. An employer should be aware that customer preference is never a valid basis to deny a religious accommodation request. However, if modification of a workplace dress code is not acceptable for health, safety or security reasons, the accommodation request may be denied. This all should be well documented and communicated to the employee.
7. Develop a Holiday Policy
At the end of Ramadan, Muslim employees may request time off to prepare for and celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, a three-day holiday concluding Ramadan and a particularly holy time involving prayer, family and gift-giving. This is another reminder that while it may be commonplace for employers to offer time off from work for holidays such as Christmas, it may be a good idea to offer a floating holiday policy to allow all employees to take time off to observe religious holidays, regardless of their faith.
8. Show Understanding
Employers and supervisors may want to consider being more tolerant than usual towards Muslim employees during Ramadan when enforcing workplace policies and conducting daily business. It is best practice to avoid scheduling performance appraisals during this time or critical meetings late in the day when an employee’s energy may be at a lower point. An employer should also try to avoid having employees work overtime and extra hours during Ramadan.
9. Be Careful About Discipline
An employer should be especially careful when taking adverse action against Muslim employees during Ramadan, particularly when such issues arise with productivity or absenteeism. This means making sure to have a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for taking any such action. What’s more, if an employee exhibits productivity or absentee issues, it is best practice for an employer to try to work through the issue before taking disciplinary action which may lead to a discrimination claim.
10. Train Supervisors and Co-Workers
Finally, it is important to educate and train both supervisors and employees about Ramadan, its customs and the employer’s policies against discrimination and harassment based on religion. Thus, all supervisors and managers should be trained on how to respond to religious accommodation requests and engage in the interactive process.