The Right to Wear Optional Faith Symbols at Work
Written by Geoff Newman on 7/1/2010
An interesting case study regarding the right to wear optional faith symbols at work is that of Nadia Ewelda, a British Airways employee and a very devoted Christian as well. According to the nature of her job, she had to wear a uniform at work and follow certain rules in this regard. According to the uniform policy issued by the Bristish Airways, all jewellery items and other ornaments around the neck were not allowed with the uniform unless it was worn due to religious values that cannot be ignored.
Nadia Ewelda was laid off from work on 20 September 2006 as she refused to take off her silver cross necklace that she was wearing while on duty. According to the airline’s policy, wearing jewellery with uniform was prohibited and Nadia was warned to take off her necklace, as it was a jewellery item, although according to Nadia it was a discriminatory decision made by the airline against her Christianity. She brought claims of discrimination against the British Airways in court but all her claims were refused by the tribunal as many practising Christians advocated that wearing a cross was not a compulsory requirement for Christians to display their level of faith, and that it is something that an individual would wear by his or her own choice.
The tribunal refused Nadia Ewelda’s appeal of discrimination on the grounds that the British Airways policy was not discriminatory to her religion and if that were the case then all other Christian staff members would have been affected as well. But the court also ruled that the British Airways uniform policy was a bit indirectly discriminating as it has affected the religious values of a single employee.
More interestingly, although Nadia Ewelda lost her appeal, British Airways still changed their uniform policy by allowing her and others to wear jewellery items that showcase their religious beliefs.
It is really very important for employers and organisations to keep in mind the religious values and beliefs of employees, and they should make sure that their dress code and uniform policies do not affect anyone’s religious values. Because, for an employee working in an environment where his or her religious values aren’t seen to be allowed, he or she might feel discriminated against. Although it is important to follow certain rules and standards when it comes to the dress code of the company, it must be considered by the employee whether the rules introduced for a proper dress code are discriminatory for employees of a certain religious belief or not, and the employer should think to adjust for things that are of religious significance for the employee.
The importance of flexibility in the employer when it comes to the religious beliefs of an employee is very important, but at the same time it must be kept in mind that to change your uniform policy or dress code for a single individual is not practical. What can be done is that an employer can act flexibly and allow the employees to show their faith visibly while following the company’s policy at the same time.