A Practical Guide for Employers

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and this year the holy month is expected to commence on 5 May (pending new moon sighting and official government announcements in your country).

During Ramadan, Muslims worldwide abstain from food, drink and other physical needs during daylight hours. Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar and a lack of cultural awareness and understanding can cause stress, unhappiness and inconvenience in the workplace for both Muslims and non-Muslims. There are also strict rules on working hours during Ramadan for certain categories of employees which employers should carefully consider.

Employers therefore need to give consideration to cultural sensitivities and forward plan to ensure that the levels of customer service and business performance are maintained during Ramadan whilst also balancing the rights and needs of their employees. In this article we consider:

  • What hours can employees work during Ramadan?
  • Practical considerations for employers
  • What behaviours are appropriate during Ramadan?

Working hours doing Ramadan

We have summarised the law relating to working practices during Ramadan in each of the following countries: United Arab Emirates (UAE); Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA); Qatar; Oman; Bahrain and Kuwait. This is intended as a general summary of working hours during Ramadan and there may be specific rules for certain categories of employees who may be allowed to work longer hours (such as employees working in restaurants and hotels in some countries).


Practical considerations during Ramadan

As well as the reduced working hours during Ramadan, employers should also be aware of the additional prayers (Taraweeh) that take place every night during the holy month. With all this in mind, employers will understandably be keen to ensure that the levels of customer service and business performance are maintained during Ramadan. If this is a concern to your organisation we have set out below some practical solutions to ensure your business continues to operate effectively during Ramadan:

  • In most GCC states, non-Muslim employees holding more senior posts and who are often accustomed to working beyond normal office hours may continue to work the hours required to carry out their duties in full. Depending on the region you operate in, this may be without additional overtime payments
  • In states where Ramadan hours apply to non-Muslim employees they may agree to work overtime in accordance with the local law. Where this does take place, the organisation is required to pay the employee at the prescribed rate in respect of any overtime worked although, in practice, we are aware that many companies will not pay overtime to non-Muslim employees who work their normal hours during Ramadan
  • Forward planning – if the business has particular concerns regarding meeting demands during certain times of the day or to achieve a particular project, shift patterns may need to be altered in advance

Behavior during Ramadan

In order to avoid causing embarrassment or offence to employees, employers are encouraged to educate their workforce on cultural awareness and diversity. Training to non-Muslim employees on the meaning and implications of Ramadan are particularly important. Employees should be reminded that during the holy month of Ramadan:

  • It is offensive to smoke, eat, chew gum or drink in public during the hours between dusk and dawn
  • Non-Muslim employees should ensure that they eat and drink discreetly at their desks (if these are out of view for example) and where possible they should be encouraged to do so elsewhere and out of sight. For example, it is advisable to ensure all food and drink is consumed in a separate designated room
  • Employees should be requested not to bring in cakes or celebrate birthdays/other occasions during Ramadan
  • All employees should be reminded to be patient with each other and in particular those who are fasting as they may be short tempered due to lack of sleep, food and drink
  • While swearing and anger is not to be encouraged at any time in the workplace (or elsewhere), employees should be reminded that such actions and emotion is particularly insulting to Muslims during Ramadan
  • No food or drink should be provided during meetings-unless you are sure no-one is fasting
  • If any business lunches are required to take place during Ramadan, Muslim employees should not be required to attend
  • As Muslim employees will be more tired than normal during Ramadan, it is sensible to ensure that business meetings and training sessions are shortened or postponed until after Ramadan
  • Modest dress and behaviour around the workplace should be encouraged
  • Muslim employees will be keen to prepare to break their fast at sunset. This means that the traffic is particularly busy during the mid to late afternoon period – rush hour comes early. Employees should therefore drive with additional care at this time and expect heavy delays

If you have any queries in relation to any of the issues in this article, or if you would like to discuss the possibility of cultural awareness training for your employees, please contact one of our specialist employment lawyers for the Gulf region.

This publication is intended as a general overview and discussion of the subjects dealt with. It is not intended and should not be used as a substitute for taking legal advice in any specific situation. DLA Piper will accept no responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of this publication.