In Harris v NKL Automotive (3 October 2007), the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed an appeal in which a Rastafarian who wore his hair in dreadlocks complained of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief.
During Mr Harris' employment as a driver, his employer expressed concerns about his appearance, specifically that his hair was untidy. Mr Harris subsequently complained that he was not being allocated work - he believed that he was being discriminated against because of his hair. He claimed that he wore his hair in dreadlocks in accordance with his Rastafarian beliefs and therefore he had suffered indirect discrimination on the grounds of religious belief.
The case turns largely on its facts but has two points of special interest:
The Employment Tribunal and the EAT accepted that Rastafarianism is a religious belief within the meaning of the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003. Rastafarians are not protected under the race discrimination legislation because they do not qualify as an "ethnic group", so this decision gives Rastafarians some protection from discrimination.
Following a detailed discussion the EAT accepted the employer's argument that it was legitimate to have rules requiring tidy hair, completely irrespective of whether it was worn in dreadlocks.
The EAT held that no discrimination had occurred as Mr Harris could not be seen to be disadvantaged in the way he alleged.