Striking a balance between religious human rights and corporate image can be tough. Even schools are squabbling over whether pupils should be allowed to wear hijabs and turbans in class, as it’s against the school uniform policy.
When British Airways check-in employee, Nadia Eweida, was asked to remove her cross at work, this orthodox Coptic Christian decided to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Strasbourg. As a result, she was awarded £1,600 in compensation and granted the right to wear her symbol of faith in the workplace.
British Airways argued that, when attempting to project a certain corporate image, Eweida’s cross was inappropriate in their workplace. On the other hand, Eweida has the right to express her religious belief by wearing a cross. British Airways already allows employees to wear turbans and hijabs, so why was a modest cross such a stretch?
In 2007, British Airways changed their dress code to allow religious jewellery, and after being fired for removing her cross, Eweida was rehired. The ECHR asked why there had been so much hullaballoo about Eweida’s religious jewellery, if the policy was so readily changed. Eweida was consequently compensated for the length of her unemployment, as well as for the stress and anxiety she was caused.
Prime minister, David Cameron, celebrated the ruling. Last summer, when Eweida’s case was brought to the British Court, the PM had threatened to change the law.
Even secular groups celebrated this decision, believing that religious liberties are fine, as long as they don’t affect the human rights of others. The ECHR overruled a previous decision, made by the British Courts, that upheld the prohibition of Eweida’s cross.
Eweida’s court case was but one of four charges of religious discrimination in the workplace. However, Eweida was the only successful candidate, with Lilian Ladele (registrar), Shirley Chaplin (nurse), and Gary McFarlane (marriage counsellor), losing their appeals.
Chaplin’s case was almost identical to Eweida’s, in that she believed she had a right to wear a crucifix to work. However, in her case, she was a nurse by profession, and the hospital authorities stressed the health and safety ramifications; they asked her to remove the jewellery, as it could spread infections on the ward; which seems reasonable enough.
Ladele and McFarlane refused to do their job, when faced with same sex couples. Although they claimed that their religious beliefs prevent them from supporting homosexual partners, every human has the right to be whatever sexual orientation they choose, without discrimination. Effectively, Ladele and McFarlane believed that their human right to religion was more important than sexuality human rights, and so, they should be able to refuse services, based on sexual orientation.
If, however, you feel that your human rights have been infringed at work, contact a reputable local solicitor. Whether the discrimination is down to religious or sex orientation, you are well within your rights to make a claim in court.
Content expressed on behalf of Hughes Carlisle solicitors in Liverpool