Workplace Doctor: Do non-Muslims have to work full hours during Ramadan in the UAE?

The UAE Labour Law provides that working hours should be reduced by two hours per day during Ramadan, and does not differentiate between fasting and non-fasting employees.
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My employer – a small company with 20 staff – expects the team to work full-time hours during Ramadan. None of us are Muslims, so none of us is fasting – but is this actually legal? Can you explain what the laws are regarding full-time work for non-Muslims? JD, Dubai

During the month of Ramadan, employees in the UAE are entitled to work condensed office hours, with an average of two hours reduced from their daily job schedule. The UAE Labour Law provides that working hours should be reduced by two hours per day during Ramadan and does not differentiate between fasting and non-fasting employees.

So, the reduced work-hours rule is applicable to all Muslim and non-Muslim employees irrespective of whether they are fasting or not. Yet there may be certain exceptions, so it may be worth checking with the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (formerly Ministry of Labour) or your relevant authority if you are unsure. You can also do so confidentially without fear of reprisals from your employer.

Regular checks are conducted by local authorities and your employer may be susceptible to hefty fines or penalties if caught out. This could cost them much more than just a few hours of work.

On a more personal note, this behaviour may affect their reputation with clients and their brand to future employees, as it appears that they are ignoring the very rules set within the UAE society – one that is tolerant of a variety of traditions as well as maintaining its own culture. This decision may also put off Muslim and non-Muslim employees, who feel the company’s expectations are simply unfair and unjust.

It can also be a vicious cycle once an employer gets away with this type of behaviour. First this, and then it may be the expectation of working through holidays or even suggesting unethical or unfair behaviour to achieve results. It’s a steep fall from grace, when companies operate primarily to serve themselves over and above their employees and the society that has allowed them to operate and profit from it.

However, in a challenging economic climate your employer may feel like they are losing 200 hours a week (two hours per day across 20 people) that they cannot currently afford. This could feel like a major blow for a small business that is trying to grow amid stiff competition. Yet, I am sure if they enforce this decision and manage somehow to get away with it, they will lose more than just 10 hours per person per week. The long-term results will be a de-motivated and disengaged workforce.

The behaviour may warrant a frank but open discussion with your boss about working hours and societal expectations and remind them that the legal and reputational penalties may be greater than any additional hours worked. We all form perceptions of our employers and their expectations, and once they step over the line it is very difficult for them to restore trust with their people.

Doctor’s prescription:

Real business performance is driven by discretionary effort; people going above and beyond before they want to, rather than feeling forced to. The decision your boss is making now is not only illegal and could result in penalties but will also have a negative long-term effect on the business as the extra hours you are made to work over the next year will be taken back by you and others, in other potentially more damaging ways.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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