UK: Veil Threat Removed

Last Updated: 2 May 2007
Article by Nicholas Dobson

Kirklees Council has been praised by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). This was for the 'measured, careful and sensitive way' in which a headteacher and the Education Authority handled a difficult issue concerning a devout Muslim bi-lingual support worker (the employee) who had been suspended for disobeying an instruction not to wear a veil when assisting a male teacher. For on 30 March 2007 in Azmi v Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council Wilkie J in the EAT found that the Employment Tribunal (ET) had been entitled to dismiss the employee's claims of direct and indirect discrimination.

When the employee was interviewed for the post in question she had worn a black tunic and headscarf and her face was not covered. At no time during the interview had she indicated that her religious beliefs required her to wear a veil or placed any limitation on her working. However, during the first week of term the employee asked if she could wear the veil when teaching with male teachers or whether arrangements could be made so she would not have to work with male teachers at all. The School concluded that it was not possible to isolate the employee from male staff since all the classes had some male teachers and in addition the employee was periodically required to liaise with other male members of staff.

Following advice on this issue produced by the Council's Education Department (which amongst other things indicated that wearing a veil in the workplace by teachers or support workers 'will prevent full and effective communication being maintained') the headteacher decided to undertake an observation of her work whilst she was wearing the veil. His conclusion was that it was readily apparent that the children in question were seeking visual clues [cues?] from her which they could not obtain because they could not see her facial expressions. He also thought that her diction was not as clear as it would have been if she were not wearing a veil. Consequently, the headteacher told the employee that she should not wear the veil when working directly with children in a classroom. Further observation of the employee took place (with and without the veil) which supported the earlier conclusions. A management instruction to the employee was subsequently issued that she be unveiled in School whilst working with children although there was no objection to her being veiled in other areas of the school providing she was not communicating with the children. Ultimately the employee refused to remove her veil when working with males and she was suspended.

Legal Issues

The EAT had to decide whether in the circumstances there had been direct or indirect discrimination in respect of the employee. EU Council Directive 2000/78EC established a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation and proscribed all direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in relation to employment and occupation. The EAT described the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 S.I. 2003 No. 1660 as 'the United Kingdom's attempt to pass domestic legislation giving effect to the general framework for equal treatment Directive in the sphere of religion and belief'. These provide (so far as material) that (per paragraph 3(1)) '. . .a person (A) discriminates against another person (B) if:

'(a) on grounds of religion or belief A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat other persons; or (b) A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which he applies or would apply equally to persons not of the same religion or belief as B, but -

(i) which puts or would put persons of the same religion or belief as B at a particular disadvantage when compared with other persons;

(ii) which puts B at that disadvantage, and

(iii) which A cannot show to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. . .

(3) A comparison of B's case with that of another person under paragraph (1) must be such that the relevant circumstances in one case are the same, or not materially different, in the other.'

The EAT accepted the conclusion of the ET that the comparator should be a person, not of the Muslim religion, who covered her face for whatever reason. On that basis the ET had concluded on the evidence before it that any such comparator would also have been suspended since that person's face and mouth would be obscured, which would be a barrier to effective learning by those children in circumstances where the Respondent's policy was that the education of children was paramount. The EAT was consequently entitled to conclude that the claim for direct discrimination failed.

As to indirect discrimination, the EAT noted that the argument was focussed on whether the ET had erred in law in concluding that the means chosen were proportionate. It had noted (amongst other things):

  1. The requirement was not imposed by the school immediately.
  2. The instruction was confined to those occasions when the employee was teaching the children and had the freedom to wear the veil at all other times.
  3. Before issuing the instruction there had been observations of the employee teaching and assisting the children.

The EAT also noted the well-established three stage test recited by Mummery LJ in R (Elias) v. Secretary of State for Defence [2006] 1 WLR 3213:

'First is the objective sufficiently important to justify limiting a fundamental right, secondly is the measure rationally connected to the objective, thirdly are the means chosen no more than is necessary to accomplish the objective.'

The ET had concluded that it was satisfied that the Council had demonstrated that the imposition of the provision, criterion or practice (see the 2003 Regulations) in question was a proportionate means of achieving their legitimate aim. Furthermore it found that the Council had done so (amongst other things) after having conducted a stringent investigation of the alternative means of achieving the aim by not imposing the requirement upon the employee and having accordingly concluded that the Council had discharged the statutory burden upon it. In the circumstances the ET did not err in law in deciding that the indirect discrimination that they found had been justified in terms of the statute. The employee's appeal on that aspect consequently failed. So, whilst there had been indirect discrimination this was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.