Management Order Not To Wear The Veil While Teaching Is Not Discriminatory
Widely reported was Azmi v Kirklees Metropolitan Council, in which the Council was exonerated of direct and indirect religious discrimination, on the basis that the claimant did not show she had been directly discriminated nor less favourably treated than a comparator in similar circumstances (a non muslim employee who had covered his/her face say with a balaclava or with bandages). They held that such people would also be suspended since such apparel would create a barrier to effective learning since the faces and mouths would be concealed. The tribunal felt that such was important to children with English as a second language in which sight of facial gestures and mouth was important to linguistic development.
Mrs Azmi was suspended as a bilingual support worker on 1 September 2005 for refusing not to wear a veil, which covered her whole body except for exposing her eyes when working with children in a classroom.
The Employment Tribunal found that the employer had a legitimate aim in giving the instruction-language learning-and the means of achieving it were proportionate. Relevant to the findings were that the Council consulted widely and took advice from an educational specialist in childhood development who confirmed visual signals were important in learning a language. Likewise the headteacher and the line manager. Further Mrs Azmi at her interview had not worn the jabbah (dress) and niqab (veil) but a tunic and headscarf and had made no mention of this important orthodox belief to her.
It did find however the employer had erred in dealing with her sickness absence and grievance and made an award for injury to feelings together with an increase of 10% for failing to comply with the statutory grievance procedure.
This is a very topical subject in the multicultural society in which we live today and we can expect more of the same going into the near future in terms of challenges to school uniform and work dress codes.
If an employer has a legitimate aim in giving such an instruction and if such a restriction was proportionate then it need have nothing to fear from discrimination law.
Related Tags: religious, veil, discrimination
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