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The employment tribunal has considered an indirect religious discrimination claim brought by a practising Sikh who had been refused work by a temporary agency which insisted on enforcing a "no beards" policy in Sethi v Elements Personnel Services Ltd.

Mr Sethi sought work with an agency that worked mainly with five-star hotels.  The agency had a "no beards" policy which was concerned with appearance, rather than hygiene, and had apparently been implemented in response to demands from the agency's clients.  Mr Sethi told that the agency that he would be unable to cut his beard (he adhered to Kesh, the requirement that body hair is not cut), but was told that five-star service required all staff to be clean-shaven.  He brought a claim alleging that the "no beards" policy amounted to indirect discrimination related to his religion.

The tribunal held that the "no beards" policy was a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which placed Sikhs generally, and Mr Sethi in particular, at a particular disadvantage because of the Sikh practice of Kesh.  Although it was a legitimate aim for the agency to seek to comply with client requirements, the blanket policy was not justified.  There was no evidence that any client had been asked whether they would make an exception for a Sikh worker, and no evidence of what the agency's clients would in fact require when faced with such a worker.  In addition, not all the agency's hotel clients had a "no beards" requirement.

Take note: The tribunal in Sethi noted that the tribunal could not rely on client requirements to enforce a "no beards" policy that effectively operated to deprive Sikhs of work.  Although meeting client requirements was potentially a legitimate aim, it could have been met by accepting Sikhs on the books, addressing client requirements on a case by case basis, and seeking an exception for Sikhs who were unable to shave.