Is anyone else getting tired of seeing these kinds of headlines yet? I am. Or at least I thought I was.
When I first read the headline, I thought "Oh yeah, here we go again..."
The owner of a hair salon is being sued for religious discrimination for refusing to hire a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf.
Sarah Desrosiers, 32, says she turned down Bushra Noah as a junior stylist to maintain the image of her salon, which specialises in "urban, funky" cuts.
She told Miss Noah, 19, she needed her staff to display their hairstyles to the public. But the devout Muslim insisted that wearing her headscarf was essential to her beliefs.
Miss Noah, who has been rejected for 25 different hairdressing jobs after interviews, is suing Miss Desrosiers for more than £15,000 for injury to her feelings plus an unspecified sum for lost earnings.
But then I read the above and thought about it a little more.
I have always looked at these sort of things this way. Quite simply, my rights end where your rights start. Meaning that, yes, I am entitled to my freedom of religion (for example), just as you are. And I am entitled (at least in this country) to practice my religion. But my freedoms end where they unreasonably impact or infringe upon yours….or the legitimate requirements of the job.
In human rights jargon, we talk about Bona Fide Occupational Requirements (BFOR). Meaning that its not discrimination if its a for real honest-to-goodness necessary, legitimate requirement of the job. So, for example, if you apply for employment at a carnival that's only open on Saturdays and your religion doesn't allow you to work on Saturdays, not only is it fairly obvious that you are in the wrong place but the law will tell you that its a BFOR of this particular job that you work on Saturdays. (Okay, maybe not the best example, but you get the point.)
We saw an interesting case around this last year. Does anybody remember this one?
Teaching assistant Aishah Azmi was dismissed from a Church of England primary school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, after refusing to remove her niqab in lessons led by a male teacher. Mrs Azmi, said it was her Islamic duty to wear the veil in the presence of adult males who were not blood relatives.We had a good discussion about it last year at Lex's. In the comments section there, I said the following:
But I was thinking, it seems fairly obvious that being able to see the speaker’s mouth movements would be helpful to someone trying to learn a new language. Sounds pretty much like a legitimate requirement of the job. But her problem was with with taking off the veil in front of a male colleague. So how necessary was it for him to be in the room while she taught? If there was a genuine legitimite need for it (which couldn’t be met by having a female colleague in the room in his place), then I geuss she should be looking for a new job. If not, then her religious rights and freedoms should be accommodated, just like we would want ours to be.The other two incidents in Britian, that’s just bizarre to me. Common sense, the least common sense of all.One of the articles Lex linked to mentioned this incident, which had particularly struck me.
The third incident that has shaken the wafer-thin facade of multiculturalism was the case of a Christian worker at a British Airways' check-in counter. She wore a small cross, barely the size of her thumbnail, to work and was sent home for refusing to remove it. British Airways cited their rule of no jewelry and no religious symbolism except if it is hidden under the uniform. Ms Nadia Eweida claims that the BA rule clearly means "no Christian symbolism" as Sikh male employees are allowed to wear their much larger steel bangles with their livery, unhidden. Indeed, they are allowed to wear their turbans to work if they wish. And Muslim women can wear headscarves.Lex made some interesting points in response, such as that in a way, the teacher in that case had negotiated in bad faith. She didn’t wear the niqab during her interview, even though a man was a part of the interview process. So by her own lights, she was not faithful getting the job, but needed to be faithful once she had it. He also noted that "there are deep divisions even within Islam as to whether or not the veil is mandatory", the only true injunction that he was aware of is that people ought to dress “modestly.”
Ms Eweida has announced her intention to defend her right to wear her miniature cross by taking BA to court. Meanwhile, she has been suspended without pay by an unrelenting British Airways, which also publicly reprimanded her for calling attention to the incident.
As I said at Lex's, personally, I’m not sure that whether or not the veil is mandatory in Islam is really that relevant - wearing a cross isn’t mandatory for Christians but that doesn’t mean that the flight attendant isn’t entitled to wear one if she wishes as a manifestation of her faith. And we all seemed to struggle with why Islamic attendents may cover their hair, and Sikhs may wear their turbans - both signs of their faith - but the Christian woman could not wear her cross.
It was a really good comment thread at Lex's. You should go read it all.
So having went this far afield, let's go back to Miss Noah and the hair salon. Is an uncovered head really a BFOR for the job?
The owner of the salon justifiies her decision this way:
"The image I have built my salon on is very urban, funky, punky. That is the look I am going for.In all honesty, I'm not quite sure on this one. If we put aside the anger and frustration that I think is becoming, perhaps legitimately, almost a preprogrammed response for many of us around these kind of incidents (myself included) and actually read 'the facts' first (imagine that, reading the facts before making a decision ... who would have thunk it?), we can focus more clearly on the question that really needs to be asked ... Is an uncovered head really a BFOR for this job?
If an employee were wearing a baseball cap or cowboy hat I would ask them to remove it at work. "It has nothing to do with religion. But I now feel like I have been branded a racist. My name is being dragged through the mud."
Between the Blogs appears to take the view that the whole thing is riduculous. But is it because he sees a BFOR or is is there more than that at work here?
Personally, I wouldn’t hire her either. Shop rules are shop rules. Besides, as per my last post, if the world is OK with SCHOOL POLICY being given for the reason that a 13 year old girl is given 2 days detention because she showed a public display of affection when she hugged a female classmate goodbye for the weekend, then the world should just accept that it’s OK for an employer to set POLICY and require that employees adhere to it. After all, no one forces you to work somewhere.As tempting as it may be, that's exactly where I think we shouldn't go with this.
Looking at how other individual cases have been handled (perhaps badly, perhaps even wrongly) isn't a justification for deciding what to do in any particular situation. And that's exactly what I think we do need to here ... look at each individual case on its own facts, putting aside those that have come before. And honestly ask whether or not, in the case of employment suits, a BFOR was involved. Or in the case of a sports team, for example, was there a legitimate safety issue in play.
Some other 'headlines' on similar issues for your viewing pleasure, but just do me a favour and make sure you get all the facts first. That's the problem with 'headlines' .. oh yeah, feel free to remind me to do the same as neccesary:
Shabina Begum, claimed a "victory for all Muslims" in a landmark Court of Appeal uling that Denbigh High School in Luton had unlawfully excluded her for flouting its uniform policy. Miss Begum lost almost two years' education before being accepted to another school which allowed her to wear the jilbab.
Accounts manager Aneela Farani, told an employment tribunal that she was repeatedly dismissed as a terrorist in the wake of the attacks on London in 2005. She said colleagues at Confidential Shredding Services, based at Old Trafford, made jokes about her headscarf which humiliated her.
Sophia Moussaoui, a divorce lawyer, was sacked by the Church of England's solicitors because her religious clothing was an embarrassment to the firm. Ms Moussaoui lost her job after Radcliffes, based in Westminster, merged with Jay Benning & Peltz, where she qualified.
H/T to Between The Blogs