Azmi judgment does not give employers right to insist on no-veil policy in dress code

Lawyers have warned that employers do not have carte blanche to stop Muslim women wearing veils in the workplace in the aftermath of the Azmi case.

Aishah Azmi, 23, was asked to remove the veil after the Church of England school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in which she worked said pupils found it hard to understand her.

She refused and was suspended from her job as ethnic minority achievement curriculum support assistant. She then brought a claim of unfair dismissal on grounds of religious discrimination and harassment on religious grounds, but the tribunal dismissed these claims.

Gareth Edwards, solicitor at City law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, said there were very few reported decisions in this area and the case did not mean employers were entitled to enforce dress code policies that insist on employees removing their veils.

“Before an employer insists on being able to see an employee’s face, it needs to balance the reasons for this against the employee’s desire to express her cultural beliefs by wearing the veil,” he said.

“In this case, the rights of the children to receive the best quality education were paramount, but in other scenarios, such as shop and office work, an employer may struggle to justify a dress code that requires the removal of the veil.”

Annabel Mackay, employment specialist at Addleshaw Goddard, said, in practice, this could mean allowing a certain amount of flexibility in the application of any such rules and being able to explain why the rules have been put into place and what aim they achieve.

She added that employers needed to make sure they follow the statutory grievance procedure when complaints are raised.

“Failure to follow such procedures could result in any compensation awarded being increased by between 10% and 50%, which could have serious impact, particularly in discrimination cases where damages awards are uncapped,” Mackay warned.

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