22 May 2017

Ramadan Ready! What employers and employees need to know

Authored by: Sarah Anderson

In brief:

  • Tips for employers to take into consideration the needs of fasting employees
  • What to remember when colleagues are fasting
  • How the start date for Ramadan is determined

The UAE is home to over 200 nationalities and has become a diverse melting pot of cultures and religions. Although the UAE is an international business hub, it must be remembered that Islam is the official religion and Sharia principles have influenced aspects of certain UAE laws, including some employment-related matters. It is therefore important for companies operating in this Middle Eastern environment to respect muslim customs and values, and to prepare for holy events such as Ramadan.  

The Holy Month of Ramadan is expected to start on or around 27 May this year, during which period many Muslims will be fasting during the hours of daylight. Ramadan is also a time for reflection, personal restraint, and a time to give to those less fortunate.

It is very difficult to be explicitly clear about the start date for Ramadan, as it is lunar-dependent. In general, the beginning of the month of Ramadan, as well as the end of the month, is determined by sighting the crescent of the moon. If the crescent is not sighted, then the month would be completed no longer than 30 days, as is the case with determining all the months of the lunar calendar. A moon-sighting committee is set up for each country observing Ramadan, and the date will be publicly communicated by that committee in due course.

While Ramadan is a particularly sacred time for Muslims, it does require commitment from others especially when taking place during the hottest seasons of the year (as is the case this year).  

The importance of Ramadan should be acknowledged and respected by all employers and employees working in the UAE. Employers are advised to either have in place a policy on, or to issue guidance on or around, the commencement of Ramadan to ensure that employees are well-informed of what Ramadan means, and what they can and cannot do during the Holy Month. 

With Ramadan due to start soon, now is the time to set out some key considerations for employers and employees and in particular, advise on how employees who are not fasting can be most respectful to those that are:

  • Fasting - Although non-Muslims are not required to fast during Ramadan, all individuals must refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public places, and those working in an office with fasting colleagues should be especially conscious of that rule. Employers should set up break-out rooms where non-fasting employees can eat and drink out of sight of their Muslim colleagues. 
  • Working hours – an employee’s normal working hours should not exceed 8 hours a day (9 in some sectors). During Ramadan, UAE Labour Law states that the working day shall be reduced by two hours (i.e. to a maximum of six hours).  Strictly speaking, the reduced hours rule applies to all employees, even those who are not fasting. However, some employees who are not fasting elect to observe their usual working hours. The main exception is in the Dubai International Financial Centre, where DIFC Employment Law states that Muslim employees who are fasting must not work in excess of six hours a day, and non-fasting employees working hours are therefore not affected.  
  • Operational requirements – in light of the reduced working hours, employers may need to put in place a rota system to ensure that operational needs are met. Employers may want to refrain from granting leave requests for non-fasting Muslims so as to avoid a shortage of personnel, which might lead to increased work load for fasting employees. 
  • Productivity – fasting can affect energy levels and therefore productivity. Employers and colleagues should be mindful of this and try to be sympathetic towards those fasting.  
  • Dress Code – it is advisable for all individuals to dress modestly and conservatively in the UAE.  However, this is even more important during Ramadan. Tight or revealing clothing should be avoided.
  • Iftar – individuals break their daily fast with an Iftar after sunset. Iftar literally means to “break fast”.  Many companies will host an Iftar for clients and/or its staff, and it is the custom for non-fasting individuals to allow those fasting to serve themselves first. 
  • Eid-Al-Fitr – this marks the end of Ramadan and is expected to fall on Sunday 25 June 2017 and is recognized by a public holiday (which, for the UAE private sector, is usually two days). Employers may receive more leave requests around this time from those wanting to be with family to celebrate the end of Ramadan or from those who simply wish to take advantage of the public holidays and combine their annual leave to travel.

Ramadan Kareem!