Shangri-la denied someone a job cos she wears a hijab. Is it legal?

If you wear a hijab, chances are, you won’t be able to work in Shangri-la. That was what someone posted on Facebook. Her experience went like this:

Image from Facebook

Image from Facebook

A friend asked whether this was legal. Well… This isn’t the first time this thing happened. Some time ago, another lady was told that she can’t wear a hijab to work as an administrative assistant at preschool operator. In response to TODAY’s queries about that incident, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) said that employers must communicate their dress code policies clearly:

“While employers may prescribe a dress code, such dress code requirements should not be differentiated by an employee’s race or religion. Rather, the dress code should be suited to the nature of work, taking into account business, operational and safety considerations.”

BUT. What if that dress code means that a lady employee cannot wear a hijab? Isn’t that differentiating someone by that lady employee by her religion? Is that still legal? Then again, are TAFEP’s guidelines legally binding? Or are they just… guidelines, which employers can ignore with impunity?

In any case, I’m sure that Shangri-la has no legal bite. Because there are many government agencies and government-linked companies who stipulate a set of dress code that clearly disallows hijabs. Which ones?

Have you ever seen an air-stewardess on SIA wearing a hijab? I bet you if a Muslim lady applies to SIA, they’ll tell her that she won’t get hired if wants to wear a hijab. Now why is that allowed? Why is wearing a hijab not suitable for the nature of work as an air-stewardess? SIA is a government-linked company. You think SIA will change their uniform? You think the government will sue SIA for that?

Of course not. Because even the government has similar practices. Ask yourself. Have you seen police officers who wear hijabs? No, right? Similarly, you won’t find any women in SAF wearing hijabs. Why? How is a hijab not suitable to the nature of work as a police officer or as a soldier?

But apparently, according Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, the Minister in charge of Muslim affairs, wearing a hijab at the workplace would be “very problematic” for some professions that require their staff to be in uniform. Minister Yaacob specifically mentioned that police officers and Singapore Armed Forces servicemen are not allowed to wear or display religious symbols on their uniforms or faces.

Why? How does the government justify such a position?

It’s to preserve the common space that all groups share. Minister Yaacob said:

“Negotiating our common space in a way that all are comfortable with is a continuing work in progress. Muslims have to do this, as do people of other faiths. We have come a long way together as a society, and we should approach the adjustments that will be needed from time to time with the same spirit of tolerance and mutual respect.”

With such a position, of course the government has no moral authority to tell any other companies to hire ladies who wear hijabs for jobs that require the ladies to wear certain uniforms.

Should the government change? Honestly, I don’t know. I honestly think that it’s well within the rights of an employer to dictate that their employees wear uniforms for particular jobs. And if that dress code is applied uniformly to all the staff in that role, then, I really don’t see any problem there.

I think what would be more realistic is to accept that this world is imperfect. It’s unfair. I think that we should just accept that there are some jobs just aren’t for some people.

[Featured image Instagram screengrab]

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