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When does banning religious dress at work amount to religious discrimination?

11 June 2015 #Employment

Can an employer insist that an employee does not wear specific religious dress for work? When would this be religious discrimination?

Whenever an employer puts in place a company uniform or a dress code it is important to ensure that it is not discriminatory. This was tested in the recent case of Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd t/a Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery [2015].

Begum was a Muslim and she had applied to work as an Assistant at a children’s nursery. She wanted to wear the jilbab, which is a flowing garment that covers her from neck to ankle (in accordance with her religious belief that women should dress to cover their bodies). Allegedly the employer was concerned that this was a trip hazard and asked her to wear a shorter garment.

There was some debate about what the employer had actually said about the wearing of the jilbab, but it was found that there was no discrimination. Even though it was more difficult for Muslim women to comply with the requirement, it was not indirect discrimination. The health and safety concerns surrounding a possible trip hazard meant that asking employees not to wear full length garments was justifiable.

If you put in place any uniform or dress code ensure that you are prepared to adapt the requirements to meet religious dress requirements, unless you can justify why this is not possible. 

Kathy Daniels

Forbury People Consultant

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.
This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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Monica Atwal

Monica Atwal
Managing Partner

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