Burkas. They create media frenzy and polarise opinion, particularly when Boris Johnson is involved. There’s so much discussion around wearing Burkas and headscarves in the workplace, it’s very easy for employers to feel confused and start to doubt whether their own policies and procedures are fit for purpose.
The Burka is a full-length body veil worn by Muslim women as a sign of commitment to their religion. Those who wear Burkas and headscarves see them as a sign of modesty. However, some countries do not agree with them, with France and Denmark passing legislation to prevent people from wearing face veils in public.
“How do we deal with this?”
The Burka question is a subject clients commonly come to us for advice on, particularly when it comes to recruitment. It can be difficult to know how to respond when you’re challenged in an interview situation. Employers need to be prepared to answer questions from applicants who wish to wear religious clothing in the workplace, particularly in roles that require a certain dress code for health, safety, or hygiene reasons.
Referring to your company dress code policy is the best starting point for any such conversation. Your policy should set out the requirements for the general business dress code, as well as outlining the requirements for specific roles. For example:
- Kitchen staff must not wear lose clothing for safety and hygiene reasons. Every person working in a food-handling area is required to maintain a high level of personal hygiene and this involves wearing clothing that’s suitable, clean and protective. Hair must be tied back when prepping / handling food and a suitable head covering must be worn.
Our general advice on Burkas in the workplace
If you are approached or questioned in this area, our advice is as follows…
You should attempt to accommodate the individual’s wish to dress in a certain way for religious reasons insofar as it’s possible to do so within the context of the requirements of the role in question.
The guiding principle to help you make decisions around employee dress should always be based around the ‘impact of dress upon the employee’s ability to do their job’. If you keep this in mind, you will be able to make objective, fair and consistent decisions. Please get in touch for advice on specific cases.
What does ACAS say?
The guidance from ACAS on religion or belief and the workplace is clear:
‘Some of your staff may wish to dress in a particular way for reasons related to religion or belief. If your organisation has a policy on dress or appearance, you should try to be flexible and reasonable concerning clothing, items of jewellery and markings, which are traditional within some religions or beliefs. Unjustifiable policies and rules may constitute indirect discrimination, so you should ensure that your policies on dress and appearance are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’
Skills, Experience and Education must count first
When recruiting for a position with a specific dress code, the candidate’s education, experience and skills must always be your number one consideration. Discounting an applicant on the basis of their religion or religious dress could lead to a discrimination claim being brought against you.
Ask the employee
If you find yourself questioned on religious dress during the recruitment process, why not ask the candidate for their views on how they might resolve the issue. Start the conversation by explaining your dress code and the reasoning behind it. An open and objective discussion is always better than refusing to acknowledge the issue. The candidate might suggest a way to accommodate their wish to dress in a certain way and find a compromise that’s agreeable to both parties.
Whilst being tolerant towards religious beliefs and symbols is important, so are health, safety and hygiene considerations. A dress code should be flexible so as not to prohibit religious symbols that do not interfere with the employees’ work.
We’ve written a series of blog posts on religion and religious beliefs in the workplace. Please take a look at this dress code post for more help and guidance in this area. If you don’t currently have a dress code policy, there’s some further advice in this blog post on putting one together, or you can contact one of the team directly on 01942 727200.
For some interesting cases of religious dress from the last few years, take a look at this article by Personnel Today.