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Dress Codes and Indirect Religious Discrimination

Is it discriminatory to place a limit on the length of a garment that a Muslim nursery nurse assistant could wear?

No, advises Employment Partner Paula Stuart following the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) case of Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd t/a Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery.

The facts of the case are that Ms Begum’s religious beliefs required her to wear a Jilbab.  The nursery had informed her that she would not be allowed to wear the Jilbab to the floor, as this could cause a tripping hazard to both herself and the children in her care.  It was made clear that she could still wear a Jilbab, but just to ankle length.  She claimed that she had suffered a detriment by reason of her religious beliefs, because she had been told that she could not wear a Jilbab to the appropriate length and therefore was unable to accept the position due to its dress codes, constituting religious descrimination.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed the claim on the grounds that the provision, criterion or practice (PCP) in relation to dress did not put Muslim women at a disadvantage, because an ankle length Jilbab would have been acceptable.  It then found that, even if it had placed Muslims at a disadvantage, it was justified.  It applied equally to staff of all religions and was justified as being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, i.e protecting the health and safety of staff and children.

This case shows that, whilst employers must respect and remain sensitive to religious beliefs and clothing, an employee does not have the right to insist on clothing that goes beyond the requirements of the religious belief and health and safety is always a factor.

If you have any queries in respect of this article or any other employment matter please contact Paula Stuart on pstuart@geoffreyleaver.com or phone 01908 689345.