Three of our employees have requested the right to wear a head covering (separately a ‘wrap’ (turban), a ‘tam’ (knitted woolly hat) and a flat cap) at work claiming that this is for religious reasons, or is a requirement of Rastafarianism.
How should we react to this?
Are you discriminating if you refuse?
Most authorities, such as ACAS, treat Rastafarianism as a religion and that they are protected under the Regulations is supported by case law (Harris v NKL Automotive and anor), summarized here.
So if you refuse a Rastafarian’s wish to wear a hat, but for example, allow a Sikh to wear a turban or a Jew to wear a yarmulke, you are likely to be directly discriminating.
However, if the request is turned down because it contravenes your dress code the risk becomes one of indirect discrimination, and the argument shifts to whether the dress code can be objectively justified.
Dress code/uniform policy
An organization’s uniform policy should be reviewed. What does the policy say about headgear? What’s the status of the policy (condition of employment)? What exceptions are made? What are the legitimate aims of the policy? Is it proportionate?
More information about Rastafarianism
Rastafarianism differs from many other religions in that it only has a short history. It does not have an established church or body of teachings and beliefs, and therefore, establishing what is required of its followers is more difficult.
Devout Rastafarians do not cut their hair (wearing dreadlocks) and covering the hair is common. Therefore, it may be wise to avoid trying to distinguish between what is ‘required’ of a Rastafarian and what is ‘required’ of, say, a Sikh. In Hussain v BB Supersave the Tribunal decided to adopt a broad definition of religion to avoid ‘unnecessary complications and endless debate’ - if someone genuinely believes that their faith requires certain behaviour this is sufficient to make it part of their religion and the distinction between religious beliefs themselves and the cultural practices associated with a religion fall away.