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Ramadan at Work: 3 Legal Facts for Employees

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

With the holy month of Ramadan beginning this weekend, Muslims may need to give employers a heads-up about any accommodations they might need.

It can be a pain to remind your boss about Ramadan every year, as the Islamic (lunar) calendar doesn't track with the Gregorian (solar) calendar, but the law is on your side. Even if you aren't Muslim, being aware of other employees' religious observances at work is important.

To help you prepare for the holy month, here are three legal facts to remember about observing Ramadan at work:

1. Employees Are Entitled to 'Reasonable Accommodations.'

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 entitles employees to reasonable accommodation for religious beliefs, practices, and observances unless it causes an "undue burden." For Ramadan, this may likely mean that your employer is legally required to implement some form of the following:

  • An amended break schedule to allow for early dinner breaks;
  • "Floating holidays" which can be used by all employees for observing religious holidays throughout the year; and/or
  • Voluntary shift substitutions to allow observing employees to work accommodating hours.

If your boss denies you any of these accommodations, you may need to speak with HR or file an EEOC complaint.

  • Fired or worried about conditions at work? Get in touch with a knowledgeable employment attorney in your area today.

2. Employees Should Not Be Harassed About Ramadan.

This may go without saying, but it is incredibly insensitive and illegal discrimination to tease, harass, or joke about an employee's religious observances, such as Ramadan. While a single joke or office prank may not amount to a hostile work environment, employees should know well enough to respect their co-workers, which includes their religious practices.

So if you have a "great" Ramadan joke, stow it.

3. 'Undue Hardship' May Be a Small Burden.

Unlike disability accommodations, employers may deny a reasonable accommodation for observing Ramadan if it presents "more than a de minimis" cost or burden.

For example, if a company is small enough, and allowing Muslim employees to take different shifts would force it to pay other employees overtime, that could arguably be considered an undue burden. However, with a variety of ways available to accommodate employees, it seems unlikely that an employer would be able to deny accommodating any observance of Ramadan.

If you're worried about observing Ramadan at your workplace, you may want to consult with an employment attorney in your area.

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