It has recently been reported that a Swedish Muslim woman attending a job interview in Sweden for a role as an interpreter was unsuccessful with her application, as a result of her refusing to shake the hand of her male interviewer for religious reasons. As opposed to shaking the male interviewer’s hand, it is understood that she placed her hand over her heart in greeting.
Despite handshakes being a traditional greeting and goodbye gesture in Europe, some Muslims avoid physical contact with members of the opposite sex, other than those in their immediate family as a result of their religious beliefs.
The claimant in this case is quoted to have said that she brought the case on behalf of not only herself but for others who could find themselves in the same position.
It was concluded by the Swedish Labour Court that the claimant was protected by the European Convention on Human Rights in the circumstances. It was concluded by the Swedish Labour Court that the company’s policy in demanding a specific greeting was detrimental to Muslim individuals.
It was argued on behalf of the respondent that staff were required to treat men and women equally and they could not allow a staff member to refuse a handshake based on gender. However, Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman’s Office, who represented the claimant, have said that the claimant had tried to avoid any upset by placing her hand over her heart when greeting both men and women.
It was determined by the court that the interpreting company in Uppsala had discriminated against the claimant and it was ordered to pay 40,000 kronor (£3,420) in compensation to her. The judgment had taken into account “the employer’s interests, the individual’s right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom”. The court found that the company was justified in demanding equal treatment for both sexes, however not in demanding that it be in the form of a handshake only.
Whilst this case does not provide formal precedent to be followed by the courts or tribunals of England and Wales, it is interesting to note the positive outcome for the claimant in the circumstances.
If you feel that you have been discriminated against by your employer or by a service provider, our discrimination law team can help. Please contact our specialist team on 01616 966 229.