Muslim prayer ruling has the potential to create chaos in the workplace, warns the NSS

IN THE wake of a legal victory by two Muslims who accused supermarket giant Tesco of “religious discrimination” over prayer room restrictions, the National Secular Society today said:

We still need to see the full judgement, but this case has a potential to create mayhem in the workplace. It appears to put religious believers in a stronger position to undermine the efficient running of a business if it impedes their religious beliefs.

Society President Terry Sanderson added:

These two Muslim men have succeeded where the Christian activists failed, to gain special rights in the workplace. We sincerely hope that Tesco will appeal this judgment.

If religious employees want time off to pray, it should only be if this can be reasonably accommodated by the employer and on their terms. Such time off should be unpaid, otherwise those not doing so are disadvantaged.

No, not looking for a lost contact lens. In some workplaces, prayer cubicles are provided for Muslim employees.

No, not looking for a lost contact lens. In some workplaces, prayer cubicles are provided for Muslim employees.

In what is believed to be the first case of religious discrimination won by Muslims in the UK, Abdirisak Aden and Mahamed Hasan, employed at Tesco’s Crick depot, were found by the Bedford Employment Tribunal to be the victims of indirect discrimination after restrictions were placed on the use of the prayer room.

The room was provided after lobbying by devout Muslims in 2008. In 2012 new “prayer time guidelines” rules were introduced. Staff had to inform managers they were going to pray and ask for a key. They had to fill in a book when they used the room, and were only allowed to pray individually rather than as a group.

The Tribunal found against Tesco and awarded the men an undisclosed sum for:

Injury to their feelings.

Christopher Fray, equality officer for the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC), which represented the men, said the decision of the tribunal was a landmark ruling.

A large number of Muslims complained that the nature of these prayer guidelines were being used as a way of controlling and monitoring and harassing them. The Bedford Employment Tribunal upheld their claims and found they were discriminated against on the grounds of their religion. This case is a victory not only for Muslims, but for all people who wish to pray while at work. It is one of the first religious discrimination cases that Muslim complainants have won in Britain.

A Tesco spokesman said:

We take our responsibilities as an equal opportunities employer very seriously. We are considering the implications of the judge’s ruling and await the full written judgment.

Last year, in Minnesota, a food company called Diane’s Fine Desserts was accused of religious discrimination after banning female Muslim employees from wearing burqas. The ban was introduced after a worker’s garmet got caught up in machinery.  The ban of garments below knee level resulted in a walk-out by 30 Muslim staff.

A year previously, the same company – then owned by Heinz –  was accused of religious discrimination over restrictions it placed on the use of TWO prayer rooms it had set up for Muslim staff.

Hat tip: Pete H, Graham Martin-Royle and BarrieJohn.