When the Private is Public

A few days ago, I came across this post about a woman in Cork who worked for Dunnes Stores in their Ballincollig store. The woman is a Muslim and wants to wear a headscarf to work because she said it is part of her religion. Dunnes Stores has a uniform policy and wearing a headscarf is not part of their policy – and they are not about to permit people wear them. I think it only fair to note, at this point, that Islam does not insist on women wearing headscarves – but the woman in question is a recent convert to the religion, and there is something in that old saw about converts and zeal.


When I first read the piece, it reminded me of the case of a Christian woman who sued BA because they wouldn’t let her display her cross when she was working. Both stories are about women who have jobs, who are happy to work, but who also want to violate the uniform agreements they have signed up to.


I do not envy their managers. What is the right thing to do in these instances? Part of me thinks that wearing a hijab is harmless enough. Another part of me thinks that if you sign a contract that includes a uniform policy, then you are bound by it and to start complaining about it after the fact is a bit daft.


I believe that a person’s religion is their own private business – but I wear a bindi and, on my right wrist,  I have a tattoo that melds both the Om symbol and Lord Ganesha. Were I asked to remove my bindi to go to work, I don’t think I’d react positively. Wearing a bindi doesn’t interfere with my ability to do my job. It doesn’t contravene any health and safety regulations and it’s hardly offensive.  My tattoo is only noticeable if I’m not wearing full sleeves.


At the same time, if I were asked to remove my bindi because a firm I worked with didn’t allow religious symbols in the work place, I’m not sure I could refuse if I had been aware of their policy before taking up employment.


A person’s religion is their own private business, but people still have the right to practice and express their religion in this country.  I think, however, that if a  hijab is not allowed under the uniform policy and is not a religious requirement, then Dunnes Stores are quite right to insist their workers show up for their shifts bare-headed.