Updated at 11am on June 8 with information on Hamad Medical Corp.
According to Qatari law, both Muslims and non-Muslims should enjoy shorter workdays during Ramadan, legal experts have said.
With the exception of supervisors, security guards and cleaning staff, the law states that residents should work a maximum of six hours a day and 36 hours a week during the holy month.
Different rules apply to public-sector employees, who typically work five-hour days, as well as companies covered by the Qatar Financial Center, which may distinguish between fasting Muslims and other employees, experts say.
The shorter hours presumably make working easier on those who are fasting. This month, they must wake up around 3am to eat a pre-dawn breakfast (suhoor) before going without food or water until sunset, which contributes to lower levels of energy later in the day.
Flouting the law
Despite the law, some people in Qatar say their employers have instructed non-Muslim staff to continue working as usual this month.
“Please be informed that … Ramadan Special Duty hours are applicable only to Muslim staff and non-Muslim staff should follow the regular working schedule,” states one memo from a local company with more than 2,500 employees dated yesterday.
Similarly, a memo sent out late last month by Hamad Medical Corp. said the health care institution’s official working hours will continue to be from 7am to 3pm, Sunday through Thursday.
However, the working hours for Muslim staff will be from 8am to 1pm, the memo stated.
An HMC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
In past years, complaints about disparate working schedules have sparked online debates about whether someone who is not fasting needs shorter hours.
But according to legal experts, companies in Qatar are required to change the work schedules of all their employees.
“The Qatar Labor Law does not differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims,” one legal expert, who asked that her name and law firm not be published, told Doha News.
She said that labor ministry officials undertake spot checks of workplaces throughout Ramadan in an effort to ensure that reduced workday provisions are being respected.
When violations are found, the legal expert said employees are typically sent home. In some cases – especially if there’s a re-offending employer – companies can be fined, she added.
However, in some workplaces – such as those where a project must be delivered by a set deadline – reducing work hours can present practical challenges.
“Inevitably, how the employment laws are applied in practice in Ramadan differs from one employer to another,” Stephen Lansdown, the head of the Qatar office of law firm Al Tamimi & Co., told Doha News.
“There will be occasions where a deadline demands that longer hours be worked (and) the Labor Law does allow an employer the right to require employees to work longer hours in Ramadan,” he added.
Lansdown said that most employees who are required to work more than six hours a day in Ramadan are entitled to claim overtime pay.
But Qatar’s labor law contains limits on how much overtime an employee can be claimed. This means in practice, not all employees who qualify for overtime will receive the extra pay, Lansdown said.
Residents who are forced to work longer hours can file a complaint in the same manner as other grievances, starting with their company’s HR department and escalating the issue to Qatar’s Ministry of Development, Labor and Social Affairs and the Labor Court, if necessary, according to the first legal expert.
Rules around the region
Rules about working during Ramadan vary across the GCC.
Like in Qatar, all employees in the UAE are entitled to work shorter hours during Ramadan. In contrast, Oman’s labor law states that Muslim employees should work a maximum of six hours per day, but does not spell out any provisions for individuals of other faiths.
While uncertainty around the rules has led to conflicts between employees and their supervisors, recruitment website Bayt.com said its surveys suggest workplace morale is higher among professionals during Ramadan.
According to a poll of 3,660 individuals in the MENA region conducted last month, slightly more than half of respondents said they socialize more with their coworkers during Ramadan.
And more than eight out 10 MENA professionals, including some surveyed in Qatar, believe their lifestyle habits are healthier and that they spend more time with family and friends.
How does your employer manage staff hours during Ramadan? Thoughts?