The recent tribunal decision in Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Limited t/a Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery has given an insight into the conflict between religious dress requirements and health and safety obligations.
Ms Begum, a Sunni Muslim, felt required by her faith to wear a jilbab (a garment covering the body from neck to ankle). She applied for an apprenticeship at a nursery and as part of the interview process, was told that her floor length jilbab could be a tripping hazard. According to the evidence of the manager, Ms Begum agreed to discuss wearing a shorter jilbab with her family. However, Ms Begum rejected the job offer and brought a claim against the nursery for indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief because she would be required to wear a shorter jilbab.
The employment tribunal found that requiring Ms Begum to wear a shorter jilbab did not disadvantage Muslim women. Firstly, other Muslim employees at the nursery wore a shorter jilbab. Secondly, such a safety requirement could equally have applied to members of other religions. Importantly, there was no evidence put before the tribunal to suggest that Sunni Muslim women were required to wear such long jilbabs.
In the alternative, even if Muslim women were put at a disadvantage, requiring them to wear clothes which did not pose a tripping hazard was a proportionate means of achieving the nursery’s health and safety aims.
However, tribunals do not always take a relaxed approach and employers should ensure they have clear evidence to support the implementation of a safety requirement where it could adversely affect a specific group of employees.