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Scandinavian Airlines hijab ban is not discriminatory, rules Ombudsman

26th Jan 2018

Aye AlHassani was forced to choose between a job with Scandinavian Airlines and her faith (Photo: Creative Commons)

Harun Nasrullah

Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) ruled on January 5 that Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) uniform policy prohibiting staff from wearing religious symbols in customer-facing positions is not discriminatory.

The airline’s policy first came under scrutiny in April last year when a 23-year-old Swedish woman was told during a job interview the post required her to remove her hijab.

Aye Alhassani said she wished SAS told her about the policy at the start of the interview process.

“I could’ve then looked for other jobs and not prioritised the SAS job over others,” she noted. Adding that she hoped other Swedish companies would not adopt similar policies.

But the policy is not in breach of Sweden’s anti-discrimination laws, the Ombudsman has now concluded. DO explain, “SAS uniform policy does not breach anti-discrimination laws, based on it only applying for employees who are in direct customer contact.”

The Ombudsman referred to a European Court of Justice ruling from March 2017 in its judgment. That ruling said that companies can ask employees who have contact with customers not to express their religious beliefs and that doing so would not breach anti-discrimination law if it is done with the goal of showing neutrality to customers.

However the policy must be carried out must be neutral and consistent way and measures taken against employees are proportional.

SAS argued “the chances of being employed in a general sense are not affected by the candidate wearing a headscarf. In the DO’s investigation nothing has emerged to suggest that information should be questioned,” the DO judgment states.

SAS only first informs potential employees about the policy when they are offered a job in order to ensure that the application process is based solely on qualifications and competence as criteria, the judgment continued.

The judgment also addresses questions raised about why employees who worked with the company before the uniform policy was put in place were allowed to continue wearing their hijabs and referred to part of the EU ruling which stated that employers should take the least invasive measures possible when implementing a policy in the area.

“The SAS decision not to take measures against people with headscarves who were already employed. The exception should be seen as reasonable, based on the strong interest in keeping these people employed.”

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