12 November, 2015
There have been a number of high profile cases recently where dress code has been in the headlines. Working within the education sector and with children requires suitable and practical attire and a lot of institutions have policies to govern staff uniform.
In Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd the Claimant was offered a job as a trainee nursery assistant. The Claimant wore a full-length jilbab and claimed religious discrimination after being told she could not wear a jilbab of her particular length as it proposed a tripping hazard.
The Court found that the requirement for a jilbab not to present a tripping hazard was not discriminatory.
The Court held that the nursery has not discriminated by making it clear to the Claimant that the uniform policy clearly stated any garments must not present a tripping hazard. The nursery had not imposed a policy that no jilbabs could be worn but that any garment worn should not present a tripping hazard. In this particular case other Muslim women at the nursery wore items of religious clothing, as long as they were not a tripping hazard.
The uniform policy applied equally to all staff, of all religions. Any particular discrimination in relation to the length were justified as being proportionate to achieving a legitimate aim e.g. protecting the health and safety of staff and children. In this instance issues over Health and Safety prevailed and superseded the possibility of indirect discrimination.
The case does provide a stark reminder to those working in education to be mindful when putting in place any uniform policies that could potentially be discriminatory. It does of course allow for policies to be justified for reasons of health and safety and for the protection of staff and children. An employer must be able to show a genuine and justifiable reason for dress codes being imposed and policies must be fair and ensure they do not directly or indirectly discriminate. Such subjects should be approached with sensitivity and handled fairly.
The case also provides a useful reminder that discrimination claims can be brought by individuals who have yet to be employed but who have been discriminated against during the application procedure.