Ahmed, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, told a Birmingham employment tribunal that he did not know his job entailed handling alcohol when he started work at the depot in September 2007. He said that when he did he asked to be moved to other work but alleged that a supervisor told him: “You do the job or you go home.”
He also claimed that his line manager was “aggressive” towards him and that another told him: “Do not take the p***.”
Ahmed said he lodged an official grievance with Tesco in February and was then, he alleged, “victimised and harassed” as a result. He left the company in April.
Tesco company lawyer Laura Canham told the tribunal that it was “reasonable to expect him to be aware of what Tesco did.” She also said that Ahmed “was advised at the outset what the job would entail. At no stage did he raise the fact he could not handle alcohol.”
She told the tribunal that Ahmed had sent out “mixed messages” at the depot by suggesting he could handle Budweiser.
Ahmed said: “It’s in our religion that we are not allowed to handle alcohol. In the UK there’s equal oportunities that should protect me and my beliefs. I was asking for my rights. I am not saying i am a perfect person but there was conflict with my beliefs.”
Roger Byard, head of employment at Cripps Harries Hall.told Personnel Today: “Tesco is not the first supermarket to face this problem. About a year ago Sainsbury had similar claims from Islamic workers who refused to stack shelves with wine, beer and spirits and which it resolved by finding them alternative jobs. This case highlights the need to make clear to all job applicants what the work involves and to ask them whether they have any concerns about handling particular products.
“If there is an objection on religious grounds good employer practice should be to consider if it is possible to reallocate duties to avoid the products that cause offence. An employer who does this should not be found to have acted unreasonably if an employee or unsuccessful job applicant subsequently complains.
Adam Fuge, partner at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin said: “In relation to his claim for indirect discrimination the claimant will be required to show that the requirement to handle alcohol put him and other Muslims at a disadvantage because of their religion. If the tribunal accepts this, Tesco would then have to demonstrate that this part of the claimant’s job was objectively justified.
“One issue the tribunal is likely to focus on is whether it would have been viable for this particular employee to have carried out his job without being required to transport alcoholic drinks, and whether this specific part of his job could have been carried out by other employees engaged in similar roles without undue disruption to Tesco’s business.