The Workplace Relations Commission recently ruled that a self-proclaimed ‘Pastafarian’ was not discriminated against when he was refused an Irish driving licence, due to him wearing a colander on his head in his photograph.
Pastafarianism is a relatively new religion which believes in a deity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In case you are wondering at this stage - this is not a hoax blog post! Apparently, Pastafarians also believe that their heaven contains beer volcanoes, stripper factories, and that every Friday is a religious holiday. Again, we are not making this up! Numerous US states have issued driving licences to Pastafarians showing photographs of the individuals with a colander on their heads.
The Complainant in this case brought a claim against the Road Safety Authority on the basis of religious discrimination pursuant to the Equal Status Acts. He alleged that the colander is an integral part of his religious attire. Unsurprisingly, the Adjudicator determined that the complaint did not fall within the definition of religion and/or religious belief and therefore failed.
While an extreme example, this interesting decision highlights potential dilemmas for employers who are faced with requests from employees to deviate from the normal workplace dress code, on the basis of their ‘religious belief’. If an item of clothing peculiar to a particular religious group was to be excluded by an employer from the workplace, then, depending on the circumstances, this could give rise to a claim of discrimination. In 2010, a UK Employment Appeal Tribunal held that an employee was not entitled to wear a plain silver cross over a uniform unless the item was a mandatory religious requirement. Interestingly, legislation was introduced in the UK last year permitting Sikh employees to wear turbans. There are no such plans to introduce similar legislation in Ireland and therefore employers facing particular dress code requests should consider whether their decision could potentially give rise to a discrimination claim.