A Sikh New Zealander who was denied work at Claridge’s Hotel in London because of a “no beards” policy has won more than $14,000 in compensation.
An employment tribunal made the award against Elements Personnel Services Ltd, which refused to offer work to the beared Raman Sethi because of grooming standards expected by its five-star clients.
The agency specialises in providing staff for the cities most exclusive hotels, including The Connaught, Claridge’s and The Dorchester.
Judge Holly Stout was told the employment agency formerly received complaints from hotel clients about candidates, including an email from Claridge’s in April 2018 which said: “No pony tails, no facial hair…please ensure none of that here at Claridge’s.”
However, Stout ruled that the hotels had not been consulted by the agency over whether exceptions would be made on religious grounds and awarded Mr Sethi £7,102.17 compensation, including £5,000 for “injury to feelings”.
Mr Sethi, aged 34, had attended a recruitment event run by Elements in November 2017 and was initially signed up by the agency before being told that they couldn’t keep him on their books.
He was told in an email there would not be enough shifts to give him as hotel managers “won’t allow having facial hair due to health and safety/hygiene reasons”.
The email said: “I know it’s part of your religion, and we have tried to accommodate to allow you to get started with us, but unfortunately no facial hair is a part of the five-star standards.”
Mr Sethi, who follows the Sikh practise of not cutting his hair, said he was “deeply hurt” and took Elements to the tribunal.
An agency representative told the court the stipulations of clients were “entirely outside of our control” and that staff with facial hair would be sent home by the hotels and told to shave or risk not being given shifts.
The court was shown a policy directive from The Dorchester stipulating: “Male Service Staff – Face: Clean shaven, no moustaches and beards or facial hair allowed”.
Also presented as evidence was an email from The Connaught to the agency complaining about a staff member appearing unshaven. It said: “I do not believe we are still having these issues after all these years. Please do not apologise. Just get it correct.”
Judge Stout accepted that the agency had felt pressure to apply a no beards policy but ruled that in the Kiwi’s case the policy was discriminatory.
“The agency has not produced any evidence of their clients being asked about whether they would accept a Sikh working for them who could not shave for religious reasons,” she concluded.
“The possibility of clients making an exception to their policy for Sikhs for religious reasons had not, on the evidence before us, been explored.”
Judge Stout said the policy “places Sikhs generally, and it placed Mr Sethi himself, at a particular disadvantage because it is a fundamental tenet of the Sikh faith, to which Mr Sethi adheres, for a male to have an uncut beard.”
According to The Telegraph UK, a spokesperson for Claridge’s, The Connaught and The Berkeley argued the hotels were equal opportunity employers
She said: “We have a number of full time and agency staff with facial hair – both for religious and personal reasons.
“We also have a number of staff who wear hijabs, turbans and other religious clothing in the workplace.”
The newspaper reports a spokesperson for The Dorchester said that while they have grooming standards in place, they would make exceptions for religious and medical reasons.
Claridge’s is no stranger to accusations of prejudice. In 2014, hotel staff asked a woman breastfeeding her baby to cover herself with a shawl to be more discreet. The unlawful comment prompted a public outcry, with the then British prime minister, David Cameron, describing such requests as “totally unacceptable”.
Since his rejection by Elements, Mr Sethi has found shifts working at London’s Savoy Hotel.