The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, which came into force in December 2003, prohibit direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment in the workplace by reason of any ‘religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief’.In one of the first cases to be heard under the legislation Mohsin Mohmed, a former customer service assistant for Virgin Trains, claimed that he was sacked for refusing to shave off his beard. He had said that he could not wear his beard any shorter than about four inches on account of his Islamic faith but, in spite of this, his manager told him to shave his beard or lose his job. Mr Mohmed said that he was also told that he would not be able to wear a religious skull cap. Virgin Trains claimed that Mr Mohmed was sacked at the end of his probationary period on account of his poor performance.
Mr Mohmed lost his case at the Employment Tribunal, which noted that a Sikh man, whose religion forbade him from cutting his beard, had managed to keep his beard tidy in order to comply with the company’s uniform standards. The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal, judging that the issue of Mr Mohmed’s beard was one of tidiness only and had nothing to do with his religion. It was therefore unnecessary to require an explanation from the employer for the dismissal: no prima facie case of unlawful discrimination had been made out.
It is important for employers to understand the requirements of an employee’s religion in order to ensure that employment policies and practices do not discriminate against or negatively impact on any individual member of staff. We can advise you on this and other issues such as company dress codes, working time, bereavement and company leave policies to ensure that these comply with the law.