This year, subject to the sighting of the moon, the Holy month of Ramadan is expected to commence around 5 May 2019. This guide gives employers some useful tips for minimizing disruption to business during Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslim employees (regardless of nationality) are entitled to a reduction in their working hours. The working hours for public sector employees has been announced as 9 am to 2 pm whereas private sector employers have flexibility in the timing of the Ramadan working hours. Under Article 68 of Royal Decree 35/2003 (the Labour Law), an employer in the private sector may not require an employee to work more than six hours a day, or 30 hours per week during Ramadan. However, an employee can agree to work more than these hours provided adequate compensation is granted, either overtime pay or time off in lieu of the additional hours worked. There is no exception to the maximum working hours during Ramadan for Muslim senior employees.
Whilst reduced working hours can have a negative impact on business productivity, there are a number of measures employers can adopt to maintain business continuity and promote a relatively happy and stress free work environment.
Iftar and suhoor meals
For shift employees and rotational time employees whose working hours coincide with iftar or suhoor, employers are recommended to make provision for Muslim employees to take meal and prayer breaks at the relevant time and adjust work tasks accordingly.
Consumption of food and drink at work
Eating, drinking and smoking in public during the Ramadan fasting hours is not permitted. So as to avoid awkward situations in the workplace which might cause offence or confusion, employers should consider taking the following steps:
- brief non Muslim employees on the local customs (particularly those who are new to the Middle East) and ask them to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking publicly (even chewing will be frowned upon)- an email and/or notice will suffice;
- set aside a separate and screened eating area for no fasting employees to take their meals and drinks;
- withhold offering and serving beverages in meetings- clients will understand;
- refrain from having business lunches and consider business iftars instead.
Conduct in the workplace
There are certain standards of behaviour that could cause particular offence to Muslims during Ramadan. To avoid embarrassment and the risk of employee grievances, employers are advised to remind employees of the following:
- to refrain from swearing and making comments or gestures in anger or in the heat of the moment;
- to refrain from making offensive jokes;
- to be understanding of fasting employees who may not be at their optimal level due to tiredness or hunger and thirst;
- to dress modestly in keeping with local customs and this time of the year.
Fasting employees are more likely to want to take breaks for prayer during the working day throughout Ramadan. Unless the employment contract or HR policy provides otherwise, there is currently no legal requirement in Oman to provide prayer breaks except a general break after six continuous hours of work. However, in the interests of promoting good employee relations, and to manage effectively employees' time away from their workstations, a flexible approach to prayer breaks during Ramadan is recommended, including the following:
- implement a prayer rota, so that adequate cover at workstations is still maintained;
- notify employees in advance of prayer/break rotas so they can make the appropriate adjustments to their work;
- introduce time limits for prayer breaks, to avoid extended absences by employees from their workstations;
- designate a room for prayer at work (or a separate screened off area if space is limited) so that employees do not need to leave the workplace to attend to prayer.
Lethargy levels in fasting employees tend to increase towards the afternoon. With this in mind, and in order to obtain the best from employees, employers should consider the following:
- arrange for the most important work tasks, particularly those with government authorities, to be attended to at the start of the working day;
- arrange business and internal meetings for the morning, where possible;
- postpone training sessions, except high importance training, until after Ramadan, or arrange such sessions to be shortened and to take place at the start of the working day.
Employers should be making preparations for Ramadan working cover well in advance of the onset of Ramadan. If Muslim employees are expected to work more than six hours per day, then employers need to be considering how those employees are going to be compensated for the overtime hours and inform those employees accordingly.
For employees who work rotational schedules (such as those in the oil and gas sector) or shift employees (such as those in power plants and ports), additional compensation may not be applicable as such employees are likely to be compensated with time off in lieu already allocated as part of their work schedules. Nevertheless, employers are advised to remind such employees of those arrangements during Ramadan.
Finally, to avoid any later misunderstandings and disputes, it is important that any adjustments which are expected or required to be made to normal working conditions during Ramadan are notified to employees well in advance, so that they are clear as to what is required of them.