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Ramadan – Fasting, and Employment Law during Covid-19

What is Ramadan?

The month of Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic year. It is when the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours, meaning they do not eat, drink or engage in sexual relations for the duration of their fast. Muslims observing Ramadan also increase in spiritual devotional acts such as prayer, giving to charity and strengthening family ties.  Muslims are encouraged to share their food with friends, family and neighbours and to reach out to those who may be fasting alone, to share their Ramadan experiences.

Fasting is one of the ‘five pillars’ of Islam. A key objective of fasting is to increase in taqwa (closeness to God), and to become more aware of yourself and have a sense of gratitude, self-discipline and self- improvement, at both an individual and community level 

In 2020, Ramadan begins on the 23 April. However, Ramadan this year is very different due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Everyone is having to adapt to changing circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fighting infection takes a lot of energy, University of Sussex immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi says, ‘…prolonged periods of not eating or drinking can weaken the immune system’.

Who can and can’t fast during Ramadan?

Young children, the elderly, the sick, travellers, and women who are breastfeeding / menstruating are examples of those who are exempt from fasting.

The guidance from the Muslim Council of Britain confirms people who are ill, including those with Covid-19, are exempt from fasting.

The Muslim Council of Britain has also published some guidance confirming “healthcare staff required to provide care to Covid-19 patients, at real risk of dehydration and making clinical errors due to wearing PPE [personal protective equipment] and long shifts” are exempt from fasting.

How to adapt during Ramadan in the current pandemic

As the country adapts to make changes to their daily lives, the British Medical Council has suggested ways how families can adapt during this time:

  • Organising taraweeh (prayers) at home as a family and pray in congregation. 
  • Streaming Islamic lectures or taraweeh in your home, either pre-recorded or live.
  • Arranging virtual iftars with loved ones and community members through the many online video calling facilities available. 
  • Planning your iftar menus in advance so that you can limit multiple shopping trips given social distancing measures.  
  • Hydrating well  for the long fasting days. Dehydration can lead to tiredness, headaches, lack of focus/concentration. 
  • Eating high energy, slow burn foods for suhoor (starting your fast).
  • Remaining energised throughout the  workday, especially as  we can experience heightened levels of anxiety during these times. 
  • Taking regular breaks to reflect and take time for yourself. Life can be full, and we try to fill it with more worship during Ramadan. We all want to pray more and this can help with anxiety but it is important to be good to yourself – sometimes it is quality over quantity.

Advice for Employers

What to be aware of:

  • Some employees will not eat, drink, or smoke from dawn to sunset. 
  • Many Muslims will be fasting during daylight hours, eating one meal just before dawn (suhoor) and one meal at sunset (iftar). Muslims can eat or drink as they please through the night as needed. 
  • Depending on the weather and the length of the fast, some people who fast during Ramadan can experience mild dehydration, which can cause headaches, tiredness and a lack of concentration. 
  • For those who usually drink caffeine through tea or coffee, the lack of caffeine can bring on headaches and tiredness. 
  • Due to the timings of meals before dawn and after sunset, adjustment to new sleeping and eating patterns may also lead to some people feeling more tired than normal.
  • Don’t assume that all employees want to be treated differently because they are fasting, but be open to having a discussion with your employees.
  • Be aware and open to discussing Ramadan and what support or adjustments your employee would like. Managers may experience requests for annual leave for those observing – or wanting to take holiday towards the end of Ramadan to celebrate Eid (holiday marking the end of Ramadan). 
  • Be accommodating over annual leave requests particularly as the majority of Christian holidays are national holidays.  
  • Consider flexible working (where possible), and adjust working hours (i.e. an early start, working through lunch and an early finish) during this period if requested.
  • Bear in mind that employees in most cases will be required to work from home during some or all of Ramadan as the COVID-19 situation develops, so try and apply flexibility to current working from home practices. 
  • Allow employees to have regular breaks for afternoon prayers as needed (Dhuhr and Asr) if requested – this is especially important for Muslims observing Ramadan to be able to pray their daily prayers on time.

To find out more information and guidance on this, you can visit the Muslim Council of Britain at the link below where further guidance is provided on Ramadan during the pandemic.

https://mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/MCB-Ramadan-2020-Guidance.pdf

If you need help and advice on this topic, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and litigation practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

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