As the month of Ramadan is upon us and as we deal with the new realities of fasting while maintaining social distancing from family, friends and community spaces in the wake of the deadly coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). Hopefully, many of us can observe the obligations and duties of Ramadan from the safety of our homes.

At the same time, there are members of our community who are on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 given their classification as “essential workers” . These essential workers in occupations such as healthcare and emergency services, farm work, food processing, transportation logistics, and government employees are responsible for maintaining critical infrastructural services for the well-being of all Texans.

Many of these jobs ordinarily require long hours coupled with strenuous manual labor; and the onset of fasting while dealing with the mental stress of COVID-19 means that community members need to have conversations—in advance and on a recurring basis—with their employers to request reasonable accommodations for regular Ramadan-related activities such as observing prayers and scheduled breaks to initiate and conclude daily fasting.

While it might seem intimidating to request an accommodation at work, remember that you have a right to practice your religion and there are laws that ensure you can exercise this right.

The law requires that an employer reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices unless doing so would impose undue hardship on an employer and its business operations.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

An accommodation is reasonable if it eliminates the employee’s conflict between his or her religious practices and work requirements, and that does not cause an undue hardship for the employer. This means that the employer cannot unequivocally refuse to make a religious accommodation, but rather the employer must engage in a good faith interactive process to resolve the conflict between your religious needs and the job’s requirements.

What is an undue hardship?

An undue hardship on an employer occurs when:

  • The employer would suffer costs more than administrative costs; or
  • The accommodation diminishes efficiency in other jobs; or
  • The accommodation infringes on other employees’ job rights or benefits; or
  • The accommodation impairs workplace safety; or
  • The accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation

What are common accommodations community members can request during Ramadan?

  • Flexible scheduling to allow for Iftar and Tarawih
  • Shift substitutions or swaps
  • Job reassignments
  • Modifications and exceptions to workplace policies including changes to scheduled work hours and dress/grooming policies

Things to remember when asking for Ramadan accommodation:

  • Familiarize yourself with your employer’s procedures for requesting religious accommodations;
  • Make it clear that you are requesting the accommodation because of your sincerely-held religious belief or practice (employers may not determine whether a religious belief or practice is required or conforms with a religion);
  • Make the formal request to your direct supervisor or to the person designated by company policy (this is often the human resources department) as early as you can;
  • Follow up on your formal request in writing; and
  • Your employer is not required to provide the specific or preferred accommodation you’re requesting. If your employer provides you with alternatives that are reasonable accommodations, they will have met their legal obligations.

For individuals and community members who remain unable to work or intend to reduce their work hours during Ramadan because of concerns related to COVID-19 there may be potential unemployment and pandemic related assistance benefits.

CAIR-Houston has begun providing consultations and advice for some of the following unemployment benefits programs and can refer community members to appropriate resources and assistance, if and where applicable:

  • Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits may be available for individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own and have sufficient prior earnings.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits for persons impacted by COVID-19 and covers individuals who are self-employed, who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment compensation, or who have exhausted state benefits.

As a general reminder, if you or a loved one are the targets of discrimination and harassment at your workplace, at healthcare facilities, and on government premises during the COVID-19 pandemic, please reach out to our legal department through our incident report form or by calling 713-838-2247 for consultations and assistance.

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