In a deft bit of political etch-a-sketchism, Personnel Today reports that UK Prime Minister Cameron, while at the same time opposing the case of an employee who claims that she was discriminated against for wearing a crucifix at work has nonetheless vowed to “support the right of people to wear religious symbols at work.”
The Equality Act 2010 provides that employers should, where reasonably practicable, accommodate the requirements of the different religions or beliefs of their employees when creating a dress or appearance code. In a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights, a former British Airways employee alleges that because she was wearing a cross around her neck as a matter simply of personal preference, in admitted violation of the company’s dress code, she was sent home. She has lost her case at three levels of the UK court system, and the European Court will hear her appeal in September. The UK government is opposing her at the Court.
Cameron was faced with an accusatory comment by an MP in the House of Commons (which sounds like it was lifted from present day American political debate) – “I was surprised to see the Government is resisting Miss Eweida’s appeal. I cannot believe that the Government is supporting this oppression of religious freedom in the workplace,” and then asked “so what are we going to do about this sad case?” Cameron replied that “What we will do is, if it turns out that the law has the intention, as has come out in this case, then we will change the law and make clear that people can wear religious emblems at work.”
Darren Newman, employment law trainer and a contributing editor at XpertHR, was confused: “The Government has made it clear that it is opposing the application to the European Court of Human Rights by Miss Eweida and others. Given that fact, the Prime Minister’s comments today are puzzling.”
Many employment law experts oppose the case filed by this employee. They distinguish the case where a religion requires the wearing of certain clothes or symbols, from the case where an employee wears a religious symbol as a personal preference, in violation of an employer’s dress code which prohibits both religious and non-religious displays.
For example, employment law editor of XpertHR, John Read, comments that “As it currently stands, discrimination law basically prevents the detrimental treatment of employees because of a protected characteristic, including religion or belief. It does not provide a blanket right for employees to manifest their religion or belief at the workplace in whatever way they choose – although it does not ban expression of belief either.”
For employers who wish to be in compliance with The Equality Act 2010, take a look at the XpertHR quick primer as to the dress or appearance requirements of the different religions or beliefs.