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Ensure your company's policies don't give rise to a discrimination claim

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has upheld the decision that a requirement that the clothing of nursery workers should not be a tripping hazard was not discriminatory to a Muslim wearing a jilbab.

Background

An applicant for a nursery assistant role claimed that she had been told at interview that she would not be permitted to wear a full length jilbab (a garment that covers the body but not the face). She claimed this was discrimination on the grounds of her religious beliefs.

The employment tribunal disagreed with the applicant’s version of events. It found that she had in fact been told by the nursery manager that she could not wear any garments that could present a tripping hazard to members of staff or children. 

This was not a discriminatory requirement as it applied equally to staff of all religions. It was a workplace in which other Muslim women worked and were able to comply with the requirement, including a woman who wore a full-length jilbab.

Even if it did put some Muslim women at a disadvantage, it was found that any indirect discrimination could be justified in order to protect the health and safety of staff and children at the nursery.

The EAT upheld the tribunal’s decision.

Comment

This was an interesting case turning on its facts. Other cases may be decided very differently due to the particular circumstances. It is important to consider your business’ policies and practices to ensure that they do not impose an unjustifiable disadvantage on a particular group which could give risk to a discrimination claim. In this case, it is likely that the tribunal was persuaded by the fact that other Muslim women worked at the nursery and were able to wear religious dress whilst still complying with the no trip hazard requirement without any issues.

For more on the decision, click here.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2015. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.

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