Though not a binding decision, the tribunal upheld the ‘bare below the elbow’ policy of a hospital trust for a Muslim worker. Also communication issues and infection control justified its decision not to allow her to wear a niqab.
In Khatoon v Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the claimant had two part-time jobs with an NHS Trust, as a Medical Laboratory Assistant at one hospital, and as a phlebotomist at another. She claimed indirect religious discrimination for not being allowed to cover her lower arms due to a ‘bare below the elbow’ policy (though she was allowed to have disposable sleeves), and in the case of her laboratory job for not being allowed to wear a niqab over her face. She agreed that a niqab would not be appropriate in her patient-facing phlebotomist role.
The employment tribunal held that both these claims failed, because the employer had shown its requirements were a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
As regards covering her lower arms, the tribunal was satisfied there was strong evidence supporting the Trust’s ‘bare below the elbow’ policy to reduce risk of hospital acquired infections. It was sufficient that the Trust provided her with opaque disposable sleeves complying with religious advice.
As regards wearing a niqab in her lab assistant job, the tribunal accepted that in view of the requirements for communication (including with patients) and the risk of infection, it was proportionate in the circumstances that she should not be allowed to wear it.
More detail on this case: Race and religion or belief> Clothing and jewelry>Health and safety.
This is only an employment tribunal decision and, so not a binding precedent.