Fasting, during Ramadhan is one of the five ‘pillars’ of Islam. On June 29, millions of Muslims across the world began a month of fasting, foregoing food and drinks between dawn and sunset.
As part of a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadhan move forward by about 11 days every year. When Ramadhan falls in the summer, like in Uganda it is a relatively a dry month (July), the 12 hours of fasting may seem longer than usual. As a result, energy levels may flag for some as the day develops.
It is imperative for employers with a reasonable number of Muslim employees to make appropriate decisions for those fasting, by for example, allowing them time and a place to pray from or break the fast. It would also be helpful if fasting staff know that their bosses recognise them and appreciate the spiritual activity they are undertaking.
According to the president of the Muslim Centre for Justice and Law, Jaffer Senganda, fasting is a form of worship and employers have to incorporate it in their programmes if they are to improve working relationship with their staff.
“Employers have to bear in mind that Muslims observing the fast have a longer day than usual and some consideration towards them will be well received. It is advisable for employers with a reasonable number of Muslim employees to have in place a Ramadhan policy, which sets out the standard expected of them,” he says.
There is also the need to carry out more sensitisation, especially in bigger organisations and government agencies, where Ssenganda says, the practice (of reducing working hours for fasting employees) has not yet been fully embraced.
“Productivity significantly reduces during this period and a key concern for employers should be to ensure that business continues to run smoothly while its employees work reduced hours” he says.
While Muslims would expect their non –Muslim colleagues at work to abstain from eating and drinking in their presence, particularly in workplaces where lunch is commonly eaten at one’s desk, sensitivity is often appreciated. Politely request to be excused for eating.
On the other hand, working lunches and meetings based around shared food, staff meals and away days are best avoided if possible, or carried out with special arrangements for those who are fasting.
Employers could also offer support where possible by being flexible with working hours, duties and break times.
For example, Ms Faridah Namugerwa, an IT specialist with one of the city banks, says she negotiated with her bosses to reduce the hours she is supposed to spend at work during Ramadhan.
Unlike her colleagues, Ms Namugerwa reports to work at 7 am, an hour earlier and leaves office at 2pm to enable her to prepare for Iftar (breaking fast).
According, to Namugerwa, to enjoy such benefits, one must be a reliable employee and flexible enough to compensate the time lost during Ramadhan at a later date.
She is backed by Mr Senganda, who says Muslim employees have to be as punctual at work as they are for prayers.
“They should also make a conscious effort not to lie, cheat, gossip or waste time. This attitude encompasses the true spirit of this special and blessed,” he adds.
In situations where fasting employees have to work beyond Ramadhan hours, employers, according to Sengenda, should ensure that they give them overtime pay. Alternatively, an employee could create a different work schedule applicable during Ramadhan for the Muslim staff.
Mr William Balinda, a restaurant owner says, “Most of my clients are Muslims and so are the workers. I see no reason why I should deny them their right to religion,” he says.
In organisations where Muslims constitute majority number of workers, employers must plan ahead if it is anticipated that Ramadhan will be a busy month, by arranging adequate staff cover.