Christian British Airways ‘crucifix’ worker loses discrimination appeal against airline

Christian British Airways (BA) worker Nadia Eweida has lost her appeal against a ruling which said the airline was not guilty of discrimination by stopping her wearing a religious cross at work.

Eweida, who had been a check-in worker at the airline for seven years, was suspended in 2006 after she refused to stop wearing the Christian symbol.

She claims the suspension was discriminatory, especially since the airline allows Sikh employees to wear traditional iron bangles, and Muslim workers to wear head scarves.

However, her case was rejected by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in 2008, and has now been rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Emma Clark, employment specialist at law firm Fox, said: “The court decided today that BA was justified in applying a blanket ban on the wearing of visible jewellery for a customer-facing employee. This decision is a sensible interpretation of the nuances of the indirect discrimination legislation; Eweida’s desire to display a cross around her neck in the workplace was a personal choice and not a religious requirement.

“Eweida has claimed that she will now appeal to the Supreme Court but in the meantime, employers can feel more confident in imposing dress codes and banning the full veil and other religious symbols which are not clearly required by an employee’s religion.”

In 2007, BA changed its uniform policy, which saw Eweida return to work as she was allowed to wear her cross.

Darren Sherborne, head of employment at law firm Rickerbys, warned employers were still in the dark as to whether a blanket ban on religious symbols could be fully justified.

“This is not a helpful ruling to employers who remain none the wiser as to what is acceptable when balancing the different rights of different interest groups,” he said. “It’s also a surprising ruling in view of the claims that other religions were permitted to wear religious jewellery, and it may cause something of a backlash.”

Last month, Personnel Today reported the BA crucifix case reminded employers to build discretion into workplace dress codes so as not to end up with lengthy cases and tribunal fees.

XPERTHR: frequently asked questions

What can an employer do if an employee refuses to comply with a dress code?

Can an employer ban jewellery from the workplace?

Find the answers to these and other dress code-related questions at XpertHR.

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