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Dress code: should religious symbols be allowed in the workplace?

25 July 2012 #Employment

The Prime Minister has recently pledged to “change the law” to allow people to wear religious symbols in the workplace in relation to a discussion regarding the case of Eweida v British Airways Plc [2009].

Nadia Eweida was a former British Airways (BA) employee. She was asked to go home by BA for wearing a visible crucifix around her neck in breach of the company’s dress code. She claimed religious discrimination and harassment. Up to now she has been unsuccessful at the employment tribunal, employment appeal tribunal, and Court of Appeal. However she is soon to have her religious discrimination case heard at the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Cameron has said that "I fully support the right of people to wear religious symbols at work; I think it is absolutely a vital religious freedom. Furthermore he has stated that if required he will change the law to ensure that people can wear religious emblems at work. Having said that, it appears that the government intends to oppose the application to the ECHR.

Importantly, BA did not ban employees from wearing a cross. They had a strict dress code preventing any additional visible jewellery being worn unless it was a religious requirement. It appeared that any non-religious necklace would have been treated in the same way.

Interestingly, Miss Eweida had accepted that wearing her cross was a personal preference and not a requirement of her religion. What the European Court of Human Rights has to decide is whether or not, in refusing to make an exception for Miss Eweida, BA unjustifiably interfered with her freedom to manifest her religious beliefs. Previous case law from the Court suggests that she faces a hard task given that wearing a cross above a uniform is not a requirement of her religion.

Is there a need to change the law?

Overall, this debate highlights the potential issues that employers may have to deal with in the future, should the law be changed support the right of people to wear religious symbols at work. It appears that up to now BA have successfully defended their actions based on their strict dress code. Buddy will update this blog once we hear the view of the European Court of Human Rights on this controversial topic.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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