Discrimination Or Necessity?

As much as many employers try to be accommodating to employees when and where they can, there are times when an employer must draw the line, otherwise chaos will ensue.

When it comes to devout Muslims, some customs go against public health laws (certain hospital garbing requirements in the UK violate orthodox Muslim dress codes, possibly putting patients at risk) and no amount of complaining will change the need to follow those laws. In other circumstances it's a company policy, something developed over time for reasons of safety or cleanliness. But that doesn't stop some from claiming discrimination.

A group of Muslim workers claim they were fired by a New Brighton tortilla factory for refusing to wear uniforms rather than their traditional loose-fitting skirts and scarves, according to a civil liberties group.

Gruma Corporation, the Irving, Texas-based parent company of Mission Foods, released a written statement Tuesday denying that any employees were terminated or disciplined at the New Brighton plant. However, the company made clear the six women have been relieved of their responsibilities for the time being, and may ultimately lose their jobs if they don't wear uniforms.

''Should these employees choose to adhere to the current Mission Foods uniform policy, they may return to their positions with the company,'' the company statement said. ''However, these positions will need to be filled as soon as possible and cannot be held indefinitely.''

The company has every right to impose a dress code. However, the company doesn't necessarily hold the moral high ground here as they did allow the women in question to wear coats that allowed them to maintain their modesty, but took them away before changing their dress code.

Since I have no idea what work at the tortilla factory entails, I am making this comment in the blind: Loose clothing in a factory setting can be a killer. Anywhere there's machinery operating, loose clothing endangers the wearer as it can easily be snagged by the machinery and draw the wearer into it, causing injuries or death to them or their co-workers. Machine guarding can only go so far.

If the dress code was changed to reduce the threat of such accidents (and their insurance carrier may have insisted), then they are well within their rights to impose it. If these women were willing to sign a legally binding waiver absolving the company for any liabilities for injuries on the factory floor they might suffer due to their clothing, then the company should let them return. Otherwise why should this firm put themselves in a position for potential liability because of their employees dress? How far should any employer go to accommodate an employee's special needs?

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