Ramadan is a serious workplace health and safety issue in New Zealand

The common practice during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is fasting from dawn to sunset. What makes it of particular concern to a New Zealand employer is the fact that it requires a Muslim to not only not eat but shockingly to not drink either. This means 15 full hours of not eating or drinking which in my mind is a clear health and safety risk. The requirements are strict.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam and has specific rules and regulations. Each sect of Islam may have slightly different regulations but the key rules of no food or drink from dawn to sunset is accepted as common practice.


Muslims must have the intention to fast every night during the month of Ramadan. Intention and abstaining from acts that nullify the fast means that the fast is valid. A fast becomes invalid if one eats, drinks, smokes, engages in sexual intercourse, vomits, or menstruates or bleeds during childbirth. Other requirements for Ramadan include having hit puberty and being sane. One should only take medication in case of a life-threatening situation.

Would you want your surgeon to operate on you after 14 hours of not eating or drinking? Would you feel well served by a counsellor who was 14 hours into a fast that didn’t let her eat, drink, smoke or take her menopause or cold n flu tablets? Would you feel that your grandmother was safe being cared for in a rest home by staff who are feeling faint and grumpy from lack of both food and water? Should New Zealand employers be forced to accommodate the religious needs of employees if they negatively affect their performance?

We know for a fact that not eating and not drinking affects people negatively. Organisations like schools and universities have been asked to make changes to accommodate Muslim students. Criminals have even used Ramadan as an excuse for their criminal behaviour.


Among acceptable actions during Ramadan, Muslims can shower, draw blood, breathe in different smells, rinse the mouth and nose, take injections or suppositories, apply deodorant, kiss or embrace their spouse, and apply eyedrops. Unintentional vomiting, bathing and brushing teeth do not invalidate the intention to fast. Swallowing one’s own saliva or phlegm (accidental consumption) and wearing contact lenses is permissible.

It is also permissible to feel the intention to break the fast but not follow through with it. Muslims should break the fast at the appropriate time by either drinking water or eating an odd number of dates.


Ramadan is coming: water and dates


HRM New Zealand had the following to say about the issue in 2012.

New Zealand’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, and with it an array of employee cultural and religious considerations which need to be taken into account.

…a recent update on the Human Rights Commission’s Religious Diversity Network, while Muslims need to continue the normal routine of their life during Ramadan, it can be useful for them to reschedule their work hours or the type of work they do to take into account lowered energy levels due to fasting.

Under the Human Rights Act, Kiwi employers have to try and accommodate the “reasonable” religious requests of their employees where possible. To help out HR professionals with this, an online UK HR community resource offered the following suggestions:

  • Some Muslim employees might request periods of time off over Ramadan and/or for Eid-ul-Fitr. It is best practice to ensure it is understood that any leave taken constitutes holiday or, if more appropriate, special, unpaid leave.

That sounds good in theory but if an employer has more than one Muslim employee letting them take unpaid or even paid leave may cause serious problems for the business.

  • The energy and productivity of some employees could be affected by Ramadan fasting. This means it could be a good idea to come up with alternative and/or flexible ways to support them. For example, you might consider adjusting their hours of work, work duties and/or break times.

  • When fasting, Muslims are supposed to avoid being in the vicinity of people who are having meals. They are also supposed to pray more than usual during Ramadan. Try to provide a quiet, private space (like an unused office) for fasting Muslims to pray and take their breaks in.

  • The increased-prayer requirement might lead to an employee wishing to take more breaks than usual. It could be a good idea to accommodate this – but perhaps ask them to make up any extra time up at a later date.


It is clear from the above that it is the employer who is expected to bend over backwards to accommodate employees who are choosing to reduce their effectiveness and safety as employees. What about the rights of employers to have reliable staff? What about the rights of customers or patients to be looked after by people who are not under the influence of an extreme fast? What about the discrimination that is required? Ordinary employees cannot demand unpaid leave or work while impaired by drink or drugs. Imagine if I told my employer that my Rastafarian religion required me to be high from dawn to sunset in order to get closer to God? Would he then have to accommodate me because of religious freedom?

Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.

If you agree with me that’s nice, but what I really want to achieve is to make you question the status quo, look between the lines and do your own research. Do not be a passive observer in this game we call life.

You can follow me on Gab.ai 

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.