Workers. Discrimination. Legitimate aim
In June 2017, a construction firm, Mears, rolled out a firm-wide policy that will prevent employees from growing beards due to health and safety concerns. Employees received a letter from Mears that banned beards on the basis that they interfered with employee’s ability to “wear appropriate dust masks effectively”. Exceptions to this rule included workers that were unable to shave for medical or religious reasons, however, a worker would require a medical certificate or a letter from their place of worship for this to be recognised. Mears made it clear that a goatee “may be acceptable as long as it does not hinder the correct fitting of said dust masks”. Britain’s biggest union, Unite has criticised this policy stating that “this is a highly delicate issue, which has huge cultural, religious and personal issues and one where sensitivity should be the watchword”. Mears responded declaring that the policy is solely to protect their workforce from working in dusty or potentially hazardous environments.
Under s19 of the Equality Act 2010, indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) is applied to all, but puts those with a protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sec) at a disadvantage. It could be argued that this PCP indirectly discriminates against on the grounds of religion or belief, as it may lead to people of a particular religion being forced to shave due to this policy. Mears have relied on the exception and have also argued that they are merely trying to protect their workers’ safety and are thus achieving a legitimate aim with this policy.
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