Swedish ombudsman supports airline uniform policy
Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) has backed a uniform policy by SAS that bans employees who deal directly with customers from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves.
The DO ruled that the airline does not breach anti-discrimination laws, referring to a European Court of Justice ruling from last March 2017 that says companies have a right to ask staff in contact with customers not to express religious beliefs.
Making such a request does not breach anti-discrimination law if it is done with the aim of showing political, philosophical or religious neutrality to customers – on the condition that the policy is done in a neutral and consistent way.
“SAS explained that the chances of being employed in a general sense are not affected by the candidate wearing a headscarf for religious reasons. In the DO’s investigation, nothing has emerged to suggest that information should be questioned,” the judgement says.
SAS must inform potential employees about the policy when they are offered a job, so that the application process is based solely on qualifications and competence, the judgement states.
On the issue of why employees at the company before the uniform policy was introduced were allowed to continue wearing headscarves, the DO rules that employers should take the least invasive measures.
“The SAS decision not to take measures against people with headscarves who were already employed should be seen in that light. The exception should be seen as reasonable, based on the strong interest in keeping these people employed.”
The policy first came to light last April, when a woman who had been interviewed was later told she would not be allowed to wear a headscarf if she accepted the position. The candidate, Aye Alhassani, told The Local at the time that SAS should have told her about the policy at the start of the interview process.