Employers have been urged to keep a close eye on a landmark tribunal claim from an office worker who alleged that she was sacked for having an arranged marriage.
Ayesha Sheikh claims she was made redundant by accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward because of a manager’s unfounded fears that her new husband would make her give up her job.
The former tax administrator, whose case will be heard in July, also said her manager would not put her down for accountancy training because of the marriage.
Sheikh, a Muslim, is claiming discrimination on the grounds of religion – the first time that anyone has cited an arranged marriage as a religious custom rather than a cultural practice.
Her lawyer, Richard Leong of the London Discrimination Unit, will argue that her manager had stereotypical views of the Muslim religion, which led to discrimination – even if the views were held unconsciously.
Leong is relying on the tribunal decision in Hussain v Bhullar Bros. This ruled that if an employee genuinely believes their faith requires a particular course of action, then that is enough to make it part of their religion.
Lawrence Davies, employment expert at law firm Equal Justice, said the case highlighted the need for all employers to ensure their workforces are educated and their procedures are fair.
“Maybe employees need to be given training, including an overview of all religions to top up schooling and prevent stereotyping,” he said.
“Employers certainly need to draft policies that require extreme caution to be exercised before making people redundant or sacking them.”
But Davies added that there had to be limits on the extent to which employees could claim that an act was part of their religion. “A genuine belief could be wildly wrong,” he said. “This case will go towards exploring the limits, and we could see an imam or other religious expert called to give evidence.”
BDO Stoy Hayward strongly denies Sheikh’s claims. In its formal defence document, it said she had under-performed and was genuinely made redundant.
For more on religious discrimination, click here