Can a health and safety policy be indirectly discriminatory?
Employment Law solicitor, Nicola Robson, takes a look back at the decision in Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd and what it means for you.
The claimant, Ms Begum, was a devout Muslim who chose to wear a jilbab, which covered her from her neck to the floor.
She applied for the post of Nursery Assistant. During the interview, she was offered the job but was asked if she could wear a shorter garment for work. The jilbab she was wearing was seen as a trip hazard.
Ms Begum didn’t start the job and instead issued a claim.
She argued that it would’ve been against her morals and belief to wear a shorter garment, and that she’d suffered from indirect discrimination on the grounds of her religion.
Ms Begum’s claim was unsuccessful. The Employment Tribunal held there was no disadvantage to Ms Begum for two reasons:
1. No evidence was given stating that a full-length garment (as opposed to a shorter length one proposed by the nursery) was a religious requirement. And at no point was she told that she couldn’t wear a jilbab while working at the nursery. She was simply asked to wear one that wasn’t a trip hazard.
2. The nursery’s dress/health and safety policy applied equally to all employees (including other employees who were also practicing Muslims). And its request was a fair means of protecting the health and safety of staff and children.
Ms Begum appealed the decision. The EAT upheld the Tribunal’s ruling and dismissed the appeal.
You can find full details of the case here.
What this means for you
This case shows there isn’t an unlimited right for an employee to manifest their religion in the workplace. So long as there is justification for any limits imposed.
In this context, protecting the health and safety of the employee, colleagues and children who attended the nursery was enough to justify the dress code imposed.
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