In Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd t/a Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery a Nursery was accused of race discrimination. Ms Begum, a Muslim, wore a full-length jilbab which covered her body from her neck to her ankles. During the job interview the nursery discussed with her their policies and procedures and expressed concern that the jilbab was particularly long and could pose a trip hazard.
The nursery asked whether or not it would be possible for her to wear a shorter jilbab to work or possibly a shorter jilbab and combining it with trousers. She refused a job at a nursery after being told that she would need to wear non-slip footwear and that, while she could wear a jilbab to work, it could not be of the type that covered her shoes and touched the floor as it was considered unsafe. Ms Begum claimed indirect religious discrimination because the nursery's policies contravened her religious beliefs.
The tribunal rejected her claim. Muslim women were not put at a particular disadvantage by the nursery’s policies. There was no group (or indeed individual) disadvantage, since Muslim women would be able to wear a jilbab - whether full length dress or shorter - as long as it did not represent a trip hazard. The tribunal also concluded that discussing the length of Ms Begum's jilbab with her during the interview did not amount to discrimination on the grounds of her religion or belief.
The following lessons can be taken from this case:
- Rules relating to dress or uniform at work may amount to indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion, if they can be said to put people of a particular religion or belief at a disadvantage and in fact, puts the individual concerned at a disadvantage. The employer will have a defence if the rule can be objectively justified and they are proportionate (essentially that means balancing the needs of the employer against the effect it has on the individual).
- It will not be discriminatory to question an individual in relation to their attire in a job interview, unless the employer treats the individual less favourably as a consequence because of their religion or belief. In reality this means there must be a legitimate reason for raising the issue and it needs to be addressed sensitively.
Sarah Rushton firstname.lastname@example.org
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