To not accommodate a request by a female Muslim never to be in work "alone" with any male colleague?

(652 Posts)
LibertyPrints Tue 22-Apr-14 22:48:06

"Sarah" has worked with our company since December. We have 12 staff (some of whom are part time) across 2 sites. All staff work between the 2 sites. They are retail outlets.

Sarah is Muslim and has recently contacted me to ask if I can ensure she is not ever scheduled to be alone with any male colleague at either site stating this is to do with her religious beliefs.

The manager is male and 3 staff are male. Different staff have different skill levels and they are scheduled where they are best utilised on any given day/week and so that all shifts are pretty equally shared out. It is not practical to agree to this.

For clarity I have no issue with making adjustments for her where I can. For example she asked at interview if she could reduce her lunch hour by varying amounts and then take that extra time out when she wanted to pray at varying times of the day. Even though we don't normally allow breaks to be taken in this way I agreed willingly.

I feel really awkward saying no but it's really far from ideal. AIBU to think if she can't expect this from us?

FreudiansSlipper Tue 22-Apr-14 22:50:33

I do not think it is something you can agree to with the few staff you have

CoffeeTea103 Tue 22-Apr-14 22:51:34

Yanbu, ridiculous.

OldLadyKnowsSomething Tue 22-Apr-14 22:52:22

If they are retail outlets, would she actually be "alone" with a male co-worker, or would there be customers/other staff around? Or might she be able to bring along her own chaperone? It's an awkward one, but I don't think you'd be unreasonable to refuse.

SantanaLopez Tue 22-Apr-14 22:52:32

YANBU, that's surely far beyond the reach of reasonable adjustments.

Janethegirl Tue 22-Apr-14 22:53:18

If the shifts don't work out it's not your fault, but you may need to deal with it..... Not sure how though. Never encountered this where I work although there are 2 people on call every weekend and some are female Muslim .

badtime Tue 22-Apr-14 22:53:51

If she only brought this up after she had been working with you for a few months, it can't be that big a deal.

Gurnie Tue 22-Apr-14 22:53:55

How can she possibly make such a request? I just don't see how you can agree to it. Yanbu.

If you're working in retail surely you expect to have customers in almost all of the time? Therefore the expectation would be that she won't be 'alone' whatever the gender of her co-workers. In any case I don't see how you can be expected to schedule this without detriment to your other staff and your business.

FunkyBoldRibena Tue 22-Apr-14 22:55:33

I'd bring her in, cut out cards with all the staff names and ask her how she proposes this would actually work, over a full cycle load of shifts.

If she can make it work, remove some of the females at random with sickness and or maternity leave, and keep going to see how she can make it work.

If it is possible, then you should say you will attempt it but it depends on staffing.

drnoitall Tue 22-Apr-14 22:55:50

Can she arrange her own chaperone, subject your your approval.

MostWicked Tue 22-Apr-14 22:56:25

I think her request is unreasonable.
What kind of working environment is it? Would they have to be locked in a small room together?

Nestabee Tue 22-Apr-14 22:57:07

Yanbu

It is not practical and could be discrimination against the male workers if you did it.

newbiefrugalgal Tue 22-Apr-14 22:57:46

This should have been raised at recruitment stage.
No you are not being unreasonable

MidniteScribbler Tue 22-Apr-14 22:58:29

I would tell her that the nature of the business and staffing makeup mean it is impossible to guarantee this, although you will do so when logistically possible, but when she is rostered to work with only a male colleague that she can bring a chaperone.

LouiseAderyn Tue 22-Apr-14 22:59:39

I wouldn't accommodate such a request. If she is unwilling to do the job as agreed at interview then she ought to resign.

If I was a male employee in this business I woukd feel very uncomfortable about this.

eightandthreequarters Tue 22-Apr-14 22:59:40

If you have no legal obligation to provide this, and it's not practical, then you will simply have to say 'no', and explain your reasons. To be honest, it should be obvious to her that it's not possible... only 12 employees, two sites, varying shifts... it doesn't take much to do the maths! Employers should accommodate whenever possible. But it's not possible for you.

Terrortree Tue 22-Apr-14 22:59:44

I used to work in the ME and this issue came up a lot - the women were told they could bring a chaperone on the occasions where this would happen. The chaperone came at their own expense. We always gave as much notice as possible of any potential requirements for the women to travel. Working 1:1 with an unrelated male wasn't really a problem though as there were customers around.

This worked quite well for the best part. Of course, there were always a few issues here and there.

For some Muslim women, it really is a matter of life and death not to be alone with an unrelated male. For others a matter of interpretation.

For advice on a work related issue you could call the Muslim Council who would let you know regarding UK British Law aspects - I've generally found them very helpful.

janey68 Tue 22-Apr-14 23:01:04

So she's said it's 'to do with' her religion? Sounds very suspect to me as I have worked with a number of people who are Muslim and have never come across this specific request. It sounds more like her personal preference rather than a religious requirement.
I also think it would be almost impossible for you to accommodate anyway

LibertyPrints Tue 22-Apr-14 23:02:27

Yes we would expect customers to be in (and they too could of course be male) but there are potentially quieter times when there are no customers in and she could potentially be "alone" with a male member of staff some days or at certain times (whilst a colleague was at lunch for example).

indigo18 Tue 22-Apr-14 23:02:53

If she can't do the job as required, she should leave. YANBU.

littledrummergirl Tue 22-Apr-14 23:05:05

Google acas guide religion. I think that you will be ok to say no to this if you can demonstrate that your business needs will suffer if you put this adjustment in place. The question is- is it a reasonable adjustment? If you are a small business then it may not be, for a larger company it would be.

LibertyPrints Tue 22-Apr-14 23:09:34

Not locked in a small room together. The sites are shops. One shop is facing a busy shopping street and the other is a concession within a larger retail shop. She didn't mention it at interview.

I have been turning it round in my head all day but hadn't thought of the chaperone idea. Can't imagine she'd have anyone that would want to do that but at least I could offer that she could if she wished to.

Alisvolatpropiis Tue 22-Apr-14 23:11:08

Yanbu, I can't see that working.

MidniteScribbler Tue 22-Apr-14 23:11:11

Bear in mind also that agreeing to her request would leave you open to other forms of discrimination claims - male workers having their hours restricted due to her needs, or having to make the decision to hire female staff only.

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