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Dress Codes, Jilbabs and Indirect Religious Discrimination

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 Thanks to Naomi Cunningham of Outer Temple Chambers for preparing this case summary

Was an employment tribunal entitled to find that a limit on the length of a garment that a Muslim nursery assistant could wear to work was not discriminatory?

Yes, held the EAT in Begum v Pedagogy Auras UK Ltd t/a Barley Lane Montessori Day Nursery.

Ms Begum, who applied for a post as a nursery assistant, felt obliged by her religion to wear a jilbab, a flowing outer garment covering her from neck to ankle. At her interview, she was asked if she could wear a shorter garment for work, as the jilbab she was wearing was seen as a trip-hazard.

Ms Begum complained of discrimination. The employment tribunal found that the provision, criterion or practice ('PCP') in relation to dress did not put Muslim women at a disadvantage, because an ankle-length jilbab would have been acceptable. There was no evidence given of a religious requirement to wear a floor-length garment. Alternatively, if the PCP did put Muslim women at a disadvantage, it was justified in any event.

The EAT declined to interfere with the employment tribunal’s conclusions: there was no error of law in its approach, nor perversity in its factual findings.