• International Workplace
  • 4 July 2017

Muslim employee ordered to remove ‘terrorist-style’ hijab

A Muslim woman is claiming religious discrimination against her former employer after she was allegedly ordered to remove her black hijab because it had terrorist connotations.

The woman, who has not been named, is said to have worked for estate agent Harvey Dean in Bury, Greater Manchester, for about a year when her employer began to raise concerns about her attire, stating that moving from a back office into public view meant "that it would be in the best interest of the business for her to change the colour of her hijab, due to the supposed terrorist affiliation with the colour black".

Also, a colleague allegedly claimed that the predominantly white and non-Muslim community around the company’s office would “feel intimidated and scared if they saw the claimant”.

The woman had been wearing a black headscarf that left her face uncovered since starting at Harvey Dean, and was not prepared to change her attire for the reasons given. She said she refused her employers’ orders again in a phone call and a meeting held the following day with the male manager, who had allegedly brought coloured hijabs into the office for her to change into.

The complaint filed with the Tribunal informs that, hours after the claimant’s refusal to follow her employer’s orders, he “went on a tirade accusing the claimant of not working” when he saw her sending a text during her lunch break. He proceeded to tell her to “Get the [expletive] out of here.”

After leaving the office, the woman heard nothing further from the company, and so submitted a letter of resignation the following week. She claimed that her objections to the order "fell on deaf ears" and left her feeling unable to remain at the company.

The claimant said she felt "singled out" as the only Muslim woman in the office and claims the company discriminated against her on the basis of both religion and gender.

The Tribunal complaint argues that her treatment created an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment", and is seeking a written admission that she was subjected to unlawful discrimination.

The case, which will be considered at a preliminary hearing at the Manchester Employment Tribunal on 20 July, is the first of its kind in the UK following a landmark ruling at the European Court of Justice in March. Judges found that companies could legally ban employees from wearing the Islamic headscarf, but only as part of prohibitions encompassing all religious and political symbols equally.