Ramadan begins this week (Friday 26 May), and many employers don’t know how to observe it appropriately.

Research carried out by ComRes found that three per cent of workers in Britain say they have been discriminated against because of their religion or belief, which could equate to around a million people.

The study entitled ‘Belief At Work’, is the first piece of research to specifically look into faith in the British workplace. It states that many people anecdotally report feeling uncomfortable because of workplace culture which condones humour at the expense of religious beliefs or makes it difficult to talk about prayer or attendance at church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

During Ramadan, some workplaces will have to address particular issues but many employers are not aware of how best to meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010. According to the study, this is an area of workplace diversity and inclusion which people do not notice unless it directly affects them.

Katie Harrison, Director of ComRes Faith Research Centre says:

‘We found that people who say they attend a religious service at least once a month answered questions about workplace provisions very differently from everyone else,’ 

‘They were more likely to report that their workplace made provision for religious observance and to say that they would welcome further provision. This is clearly something which varies from person to person, as religious belief and practice is highly personal and everyone has their own way of engaging with their belief. It’s important that employers don’t assume that every Muslim colleague will want to do exactly the same thing during Ramadan. Each person will express their faith differently, and our research found that the most important thing is to create a culture where it’s OK to talk about these things, and to listen well.’

Some of the practices which many Muslims follow during Ramadan include fasting from food and all drinks including water during daylight hours, avoiding listening to music, praying at regular times throughout the day, and giving money to charity. In workplaces, this may affect meeting times and catering, and office environment, which some businesses will need to accommodate.

Conversely Belief At Work found that some people try too hard, and unintentionally embarrass people.

‘One person told us that he went to a meeting where the organiser was very keen to point out that they had provided halal food on a separate plate and a prayer room just for him,’ says Katie Harrison.

 ‘As it happens, although he is a Muslim, he doesn’t eat halal food or pray during the day, and says he felt even more excluded because people had treated him differently from everyone else. It’s important to remember that there is not just one way to practise any religion and each person does things differently, so having thoughtful conversations with colleagues will help determine how best to understand each other and respect people’s beliefs.’

‘On the other hand, there are lots of employers who are doing great things, big or small, to develop a workplace culture where people of all faiths and none can thrive, which is why we’re holding the Belief At Work Awards. We’re receiving some fascinating nominations from people who have stories to tell about managers who listen well and seek to understand their way of life.’