Ramadan and Employment ……what to expect in the workplace (whether at home or office) during the holy month

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink from dawn to sun set every day during the month of Ramadan.

What to expect from your employees during Ramadan?

The Islamic traditions, customs and cultural practices constitute a significant element of the daily life in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For employers in particular, Ramadan raises two concerns – business continuity in one hand and cultural/religious understandings in the other. This requires careful consideration from a legal and practical perspective.

Reduced working hours

The Federal Law No. 8 of 1980, as amended (the UAE Labour Law); the DIFC Law No. 2 of 2019, as amended (the DIFC Employment Law); and the ADGM Employment Regulations 2019 (the ADMG Employment Regulations) oblige employers to reduce the working hours of their employees as explained in the next paragraph.

Is reduced working hours for Muslim employees only?

It depends on the location of the business incorporation:

  • If you are a DIFC employer- the obligation to reduce the working hours is limited to Muslim employees. The working hours for those employees during Ramadan shall not exceed 6 hours each day.
  • If you are ADGM employer- the obligation to reduce the working hours is limited to Muslim employees who observe the fast. The working hours for those employees during Ramadan shall be reduced by 2 hours a day. The normal working hours in ADGM (outside of Ramadan) is an average of 48 hours for each 7 day.
  • As for the rest of the employers in the UAE- the obligation to reduce the working hours is not religion specific. Meaning, and according to the spirit of the UAE Labour Law, all employees including those who do not observe the fast should benefit from the reduced working hours during the holy month. The working hours during Ramadan shall not exceed 6 hours each day.

What is the market practice for employers governed by the UAE Labour Law?

It is recommended to adhere with the rules set in this article but employers (governed by the UAE Labour Law) can (and often do) adopt a pragmatic position when it comes to deploying the reduced working hours. For example, if there is urgent work to be completed which is subject to an imminent deadline, then the employer could, within reason, request employees to continue work until the completion of the urgent matter. However, in such circumstances, a distinction should be drawn between the following categories of employees:

  • Muslims observing the fast- should always be permitted to stop work at the end of their statutory reduced working hours;
  • non-fasting Muslims- although they should likewise be permitted to enjoy the full benefit of the reduced working hours, fall in the middle category; and
  • non-Muslims- fall into the lowest category. Nevertheless, they should not ordinarily be asked to work beyond the reduced hours in Ramadan.

Can employers impose deductions of the employees’ salary during Ramadan?

Under the UAE Labour Law, the DIFC Employment Law and the ADGM Employment Regulations the reduced working hours imposed during Ramadan do not result in a corresponding reduction in salary.

Any recommended behaviours during Ramadan?

Employers should, if they have not already done so, implement a policy for Ramadan setting out clearly not only the employees’ entitlements during Ramadan but the expected standards of behaviours and conduct during the holy month to avoid causing offense to those observing the fast, including:

  • refraining from eating, drinking or smoking in shared areas during the fasting period;
  • refraining from asking someone who is fasting to organise or serve food or drinks during Ramadan;
  • alignment between team member to ensure the business is not disrupted during Ramadan;
  • briefing overseas clients with Ramadan policy so expectations are managed properly; and
  • setting up “out of office” messages for those who works under reduced working hours.

To sum up, there are a number of steps which can help employers ensuring that their employees are fully acquainted of the religious significance of the holy month of Ramadan, the expected standards of behaviour as well as their own rights and entitlements. It is equally important, however, for non-Muslims to enjoy and share in the celebrations and festivities which, for some, will be their first cultural experience in the region.