In a previous blog (Indirect discrimination? published on 21 February 2019 and updated on 8 July 2019), I discussed the form of prohibited conduct known as indirect discrimination in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 defines indirect discrimination:
‘A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if A applies to B a provision, criterion or practice which is discriminatory in relation to a relevant protected characteristic of B’s.’
Section 19(2) makes it very clear what it is meant by a discriminatory provision, criterion or practice in relation to a relevant protected characteristic:
(a) A applies, or would apply, it to persons with whom B does not share the characteristic,
(b) it puts, or would put, persons with whom B shares the characteristic at a particular disadvantage when compared with persons with whom B does not share it,
(c) it puts, or would put, B at that disadvantage, and
(d) A cannot show it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Employers and service providers (and other organisations) must be particularly wary when they apply a provision, criterion or practice (a PCP) to the general workforce or the general population. It may be the case that, in applying a PCP, that an employer or service provider unwittingly treats certain individuals with a protected characteristic (e.g. women, the disabled, older people, members of a faith group or people from certain racial or ethnic groups) less favourably when compared to other individuals who do not possess this characteristic. It is always open to an employer or service provider to show that although indirect discrimination has taken place, it can be objectively justified e.g. on national security grounds or health and safety reasons (e.g. Singh v Rowntree MacKintosh  ICR 554).
So, bearing the above in mind, it was with some interest that I saw a story reported by the BBC about a policy imposed by the Welsh Amateur Boxing Authority that all boxers have to be clean shaven in order to participate in matches. This rule is being challenged by Aaron Singh, who is a member of the Sikh community. Singh is claiming that the rule prevents him from boxing. As outward manifestations of their race, religion and culture, many Sikh men will grow beards. Especially religious males in the Sikh community will also wear a Dastar, pagri or pagg (forms of headwear signifying religious and cultural observance). A Kirpan – a ceremonial dagger – will also be carried by many observant Sikh males. Both male and female Sikhs will also choose to wear iron bangles and bracelets (the Kara) which have both religious and cultural significance.
If you are unfamiliar with the Sikh religion, you can access the video below for more information:
You can also find a link to an article below about Sikhs which was originally published in The Independent:
Could this rule be an example of indirect discrimination which particularly impacts (in a very negative way) on members of the Sikh community? In terms of the Equality Act 2010, Sikhs are covered by Sections 9 (Race) and 10 (Religion). Some Sikhs may not be particularly religious (in other words non-practising), but they will be covered by the protected characteristic of Race (see Mandla v Dowell–Lee  UKHL 7).
Interestingly, as a point of reference, Judaism is also a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 9 and 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
In its defence the Welsh Amateur Boxing Association will be arguing the health and safety card as objective justification. Of the rule. In response, Singh is arguing that the English Amateur Boxing Association dropped its rule demanding that boxers be clean shaven.
It will be interesting to see how this dispute develops.
A link to the story on the BBC News website can be found below:
Cardiff student Aaron Singh says the rules in Wales are “not fair” and discriminatory.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also published guidance for employers and organisations about the Sikh community and its beliefs:
More links to stories about Sikhism and potential indirect discrimination can be found below:
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 July 2019