Indirect Discrimination on the Grounds of Religion

Jul 17, 2015
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to indirectly discriminate against a person in relation to any of the protected characteristics protected under the legislation whether they are an employee, worker or prospective employee or worker. 

Under section 19 of the Equality Act, a person indirectly discriminates against another if they apply to that person a ‘provision’, ‘criteria’ or ‘practice’ which is discriminatory in relation to a protected characteristic of that person.  It would be classed as discriminatory if it put the person or any persons whom share that protected characteristic at a disadvantage when compared to persons who do not share that characteristic. 

Case Study
One of the characteristics protected under the legislation is religion. The recent case of Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Limited t/a Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery considered the extent to which an employer’s decision to limit the length of clothing worn by a Muslim interviewee amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion.

Ms Begum was a Muslim who traditionally wore a floor length jilbab for religious reasons which covered her body from her neck to her ankles. She applied for a position as a nursery teaching assistant and on attending the interview was asked by her prospective employer whether she would consider wearing alternative clothing as her dress would be a health and safety risk in a nursery and could pose a potential tripping hazard. 

Ms Begum brought a claim for discrimination against the nursery claiming that this would place Muslim women at a disadvantage as compared to women who were not Muslim. 

The Verdict
The Employment Tribunal found that the nursery’s request did not amount to discrimination as there was no religious requirement that the jilbab had to be floor length. There was evidence to suggest that an ankle length jilbab would have been sufficient and therefore did not place Muslim women at a disadvantage as they could wear a shorter jilbab and dress in accordance with their religious beliefs. The Employment Tribunal went on to find that even if this did place Muslim women at a disadvantage as compared with non-Muslim women, the request was a legitimate way of protecting the health and safety of their staff and their children. This decision was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

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