UAE business owners say flexibility is key for employees during Ramadan

A two-hour reduction in working hours is mandatory throughout holy month but private companies can arrange this how they choose

Private companies in the UAE spoke to The National about their approach to Ramadan working hours while ensuring business continues as usual. Getty Images
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As Ramadan began on Monday, private companies across the UAE introduced new working hours for employees.

Last week, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation confirmed a reduction of two hours a day across all industries in the private sector is mandatory throughout the holy month.

This followed confirmation that public-sector working hours will also be shorter, with ministries and federal agencies working from 9am to 2.30pm, Monday to Thursday, and 9am to noon on Fridays.

How private companies put their hours in place can vary business to business. The authority said: “In accordance with the requirements and nature of their work, companies may apply flexible or remote work patterns within the limits of the daily working hours during Ramadan.”

This flexibility has been key when introducing the new working hours, several human resources teams told The National.

Technology company Acer Middle East & Africa, which has 25 employees in its Jebel Ali offices, is introducing six-hour working days without exception and those fasting can schedule these hours as per their requirements.

“This flexibility allows fasting employees to manage their workload and schedule their tasks in a way that accommodates their fasting requirements and ensures they can observe Ramadan rituals without undue stress or difficulty,” said HR manager Darshika Lewis.

This element of flexibility extends to non-fasting workers, Ms Lewis adds, as Acer allows for the adjustment of work hours to accommodate tea, coffee and lunch breaks without disturbing Muslim colleagues.

Maintaining a balance

TishTash, a specialist marketing and public relations agency in Dubai with 64 employees, has a similar policy this year, with two shift options to accommodate differing lifestyles and school hours.

Founder and chief executive Natasha Hatherall says employees can choose to work 8am to 2.30pm or 9am to 3.30pm across the company’s four-and-a-half-day week, but other hours can be accommodated if necessary.

“A lot of our team are working mums and many schools have different hours, so we want to ensure they have flexibility around this as they need, as no one solution suits all,” says Ms Hatherall. “The key thing for us is that all work is delivered and clients are happy.”

As a policy, TishTash encourages employees not to work outside of core hours, “and to have life balance”, but for some industries this is not possible.

At SLS Dubai, a five-star, 75-storey hotel in Downtown Dubai, several adjustments have been made to accommodate the new working hours.

While non-fasting employees have hours reduced by two across the board, it varies for anyone who is fasting.

“For fasting colleagues working morning shifts prior to iftar, we reduce working hours by three, inclusive of their break time,” a representative told The National.

“After iftar, the reduction is by two hours for fasting colleagues.”

Service at the hotel runs 24 hours a day, so there are some instances in which employees may need to work overtime, they added.

“We do our best to accommodate our employees’ religious practices during Ramadan, however in instances where employees need to work regular hours, we ensure fair compensation for any extra hours worked, said the representative.

"This typically involves compensating them with reduced work hours the following day or within the same week, allowing them to maintain a healthy work-life balance during Ramadan.”

For classifieds website Dubizzle, which falls under the same banner as online real estate portal Bayut, Ramadan is one of the busiest months.

This is especially the case for Dubizzle Cars, due to the increased buying and selling of vehicles during this time.

Ramadan can be peak time for many firms

“We have to ensure we balance covering core hours of customer interactions as teams on a shift system to capitalise on the business opportunity while ensuring our employees fulfil their religious obligations,” said director of HR Suzanne Gandy, whose department oversees more than 760 employees in the UAE.

This is done by non-fasting employees covering office business hours by one extra hour to support anyone who is fasting.

“Our culture ensures that we are considerate with workload and meeting timings to ensure we can balance our Muslim employees’ spiritual journey with business productivity during the holy month," she said.

It is legal for employees to be compensated for extra time worked but none should ever be forced to work full hours during Ramadan, said financial adviser Keren Bobker, a columnist for The National with experience addressing common employment concerns in the UAE.

“Sadly, I have come across too many companies who ignore this law and tell their staff that it doesn’t apply to them. That is unfair.”

If staff are happy to work full hours in companies that require extra manpower, time worked should be offered in lieu “at the very least”, she added.

“Or they be paid for overtime in accordance with the provisions of labour law.”

Ms Bobker said if a company is not respecting the two-hour reduction, employees should take the first step of reminding their employer of the law.

“It can be useful to explain that you are aware of your rights," she said.

“If the employer still fails to adhere to the law, any individual can report them to the Ministry for Human Resources and Emiratisation and companies can be fined for rule breaches.”

Updated: March 12, 2024, 4:26 PM