The Employment Law Review: Religious Discrimination in International Employment Law
Religion plays a critical role in the lives of individuals throughout the world. It influences the workplace, and employees are directly affected by the ways in which employers protect employees' religious beliefs. In an era when transnational corporations are key actors in the global economy, there is a heightened need for businesses to understand different national approaches to accommodating religion in the workplace. This chapter compares how the United States, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India each manage religious discrimination in the workplace. In light of the legal debate surrounding the donning of headscarves in the workplace, discussion is included on the relationship between headscarf bans and religious discrimination in the workplace in each of these nations.
II UNITED STATES
The United States has long recognised the importance of freedom of religion. Early US history demonstrates that many of the original settlers were fleeing religious persecution and sought to challenge the degree to which religion should be integrated into politics. Thus, the US Constitution was written in the context of a deeply pluralist society. The notions of freedom of religion and separation of church and state developed early on, and were enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
The doctrine of religious accommodation in the workplace grew not only out of the Constitution but also out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the passing of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII statutorily mandates that employers must accommodate religion in the workplace.2 For years, the Supreme Court has grappled with the correct application of both the US's constitutional language and that of Title VII.
In a simple sense, religious freedom in the US suggests both individual freedom of religion and overall freedom from state interference. Religious tests for political office are unconstitutional, there are no religious political parties and the government is proscribed from sponsoring or promoting any religious activity in public spaces. Simultaneously, a rich jurisprudence of case law concerning freedom of religion and the duty to accommodate religious beliefs in the workplace illustrates the US's commitment to an egalitarian society.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof'.3 The first half of this sentence, known as the establishment clause, 'prevents the government from using its power to promote, advocate, or endorse any particular religious position'.4 The second part, known as the free exercise clause, specially protects religion from government interference.5
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their religion.6 Additionally, employers cannot treat employees or job applicants more or less favourably with regard to hiring, firing and the terms and conditions of their employment on the basis of religious beliefs.7 Title VII also requires employers to 'reasonably accommodate' any religious beliefs or practices sincerely held by their employees that conflict with an employment requirement, unless the employer can show that the accommodation would cause undue hardship to its business.8
A reasonable accommodation is any adjustment to the work environment that will allow the employee to practise his or her religion. These reasonable accommodations may include allowing flexible scheduling and voluntary substitutions or swaps of shifts, days off or job assignments. An employer can show undue hardship if accommodating an employee's religious practice requires more than ordinary administrative costs, diminishes efficiency in other jobs, infringes on other employees' job rights or benefits, impairs workplace safety, causes co-workers to carry the accommodated employee's share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work, or if the proposed accommodation conflicts with another law or regulation.
iii Important cases
Under Title VII, employers are required to reasonably accommodate their employees' religious beliefs while still ensuring that an employee's religious acts or symbols do not offend others. In 1977, the Supreme Court elucidated the reasonable accommodation standard in Trans World Airlines Inc v. Hardison.9 The case involved an employee of a department that needed to remain open 365 days per year. However, the employee's religion required that he observe the Sabbath each Saturday. Owing to the seniority system in the collective bargaining agreement between the employer and the union, the employee was unable to select shifts that accommodated this. After refusing to work on Saturdays, he was fired for insubordination. The Supreme Court held that the company met its duty to accommodate, which does not require employers to breach contractual provisions.10 Specifically, the Court explained that Title VII does not require more than a de minimis cost to an employer.11
Although Hardison seemingly established a lenient standard for employers to meet so as to not accommodate an employee's religious beliefs, in practice, the doctrine has fluctuated over the decades. The Supreme Court discussed the nature of this duty in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc.12 The case concerned a plaintiff who applied for a position at her local Abercrombie store. When attended for interview, she was wearing a headscarf, but did not discuss her religious beliefs or her reasons for wearing a headscarf. Despite rating her as adequately qualified, Abercrombie refused to hire the plaintiff, assuming that it would need to accommodate her religious beliefs. The Supreme Court held that Abercrombie's actions violated Title VII.13 Furthermore, the Court explained that to prevail on a disparate treatment claim under Title VII, the applicant need only show that the need for an accommodation was 'a motivating' factor in the employer's decision, not that the employer actually knew of the need.14
As in the United States, France is committed to having a religiously neutral society and to maintaining the separation of church and state. This ideology was inherited from the French Revolution, which overhauled the Catholic establishment and instituted an anti-clerical state.15 Since then, France has maintained a secular national ideology to promote equality, tolerance and fairness to the French people, free from religious intrusion into the public space.16
The French word for its secular philosophy is laïcité. Laïcité requires a strict and formulaic interpretation of equality, under which the state is neutral and does not recognise the religious differences between citizens.17 Similarly, there is no concept of 'minority rights' or 'minority groups'.18 The overall aim of the system is to create a society with a strong individual sense of belonging to the French national community, as opposed to a specific racial, ethnic or religious community.19 Some scholars have described France's unique approach to religious liberty as the 'privatisation of an individual's faith',20 while others have argued that maintaining laïcité involves an irreconcilable encroachment on religious freedom, as it forces citizens to choose between religious fidelity and national loyalty.21
Article 1 of the 1958 French Constitution declares: 'France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social Republic [and] shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of . . . religion.'22 Thus, the French government is legally forbidden from recognising any religion.
As a member of the European Union, France abides by the principles of the 2000 EU Employment Equality Directive (Council Directive 2000/78/EC), which proscribes direct discrimination (Article 2(2)(a)), indirect discrimination (Article 2(2)(b)), harassment (Article 2(3)) and victimisation (Article 11) at the workplace on the basis of religion.23 France also has signed the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the European Convention), which prescribes the right to 'freedom of thought, conscience and religion'.24 This includes the right to manifest one's beliefs or religion alone or with others in public or private through 'worship, teaching, practice, and observance'.25 However, the European Convention advises that this right may be limited to protect the 'rights and freedoms of others'.26 As such, in 2010, the National Assembly banned the wearing in public spaces of niqabs, burqas and other articles of clothing that conceal the face, finding the covering of the face to be 'incompatible with the values of the Republic' and contrary to the 'ideal of fraternity' and the 'minimum requirement of civility' that is 'necessary for social interaction'.27 Furthering the discourse on the ban on headscarves, the French Senate passed a law in 2019 banning mothers who chaperone school trips from wearing headscarves during the excursions. While the law passed the Senate (by 186 to 100, with 159 senators abstaining), the law was rejected by the French parliament's lower house, the National Assembly.28
iii Important cases
In 2014, SAS v. France was brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This case challenged the 2010 French law banning all facial coverings in public space.29 The applicant was a French woman of Pakistani origin who wore both the burqa, which covered her eyes, and the niqab, which covered all but her eyes. The ECtHR upheld France's national laws, finding that the laws did not violate any Articles in the European Convention. In addition, the Court explained that national authorities are better placed to evaluate local needs and conditions than international courts. Although not directly in the employment context, this outcome bolsters employers' ability to ban headscarves to maintain religiously neutral workplaces.
Two similar cases, Dogru v. France and Kervanci v. France, were decided by the ECtHR on 4 December 2008.30 The applicants, two French nationals, were enrolled in secondary school in France. During physical education classes, the applicants were asked to remove their headscarves on the premise that scarves were incompatible with sports. After refusing to take off their headscarves, the applicants were expelled from the school for breaching the duty of assiduity by failing to participate actively in the physical education classes. The ECtHR held that while the requirement to remove headscarves was a restriction on the right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention, it was permissible in France, where the legitimate aim of the French government is to protect not only the rights and freedom of others but also public policy.
Two additional cases highlight the headscarf ban debate. First, in 2015, in Ebrahimian v. France, the ECtHR ruled against a French Muslim woman who claimed that workplace rules forcing her to remove her headscarf was discriminatory. Ms Ebrahimian, a hospital social worker, had repeatedly ignored requests to remove her headscarf and, as such, the hospital decided not to renew her contract. The ECtHR upheld the ban on public sector employees wearing headscarves and other religious symbols, concluding that it did not violate freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention because Article 1 of the French Constitution specifically provides for the principles of secularism and strict religious neutrality on public officials in discharging their functions.
Second, in 2016, in Bougnaoui v. Microple SA, a Muslim woman employed by a private-sector French IT consultancy was dismissed because she refused to remove her headscarf. The French Court of Cassation asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) whether, under EU anti-discrimination rules, a requirement not to wear a headscarf during employment was discriminatory. An Advocate General for the Court of Justice ruled that, specifically in the private sector, the dismissal amounted to direct discrimination because Ms Bougnaoui was treated less favourably on the grounds of her religion and there was nothing to suggest that she was unable to perform her duties because she wore a headscarf. The Advocate General also observed that a company policy imposing an entirely neutral dress code would be likely to result in indirect discrimination as well, unless the policy pursued a legitimate aim and was proportionate.
Notably, however, in 2017, the CJEU considered the case, but was asked to decide whether an employer's enforcement of the wishes of a customer who does not want to work with an employee wearing a headscarf constitutes a 'genuine and determining occupational requirement' under the EU Employment Equality Directive. When an employer's internal policy results in different treatment of persons of different religions because of the nature of the occupational activities, the policy is not discriminatory as the subject characteristic is a 'genuine and determining' requirement of the position. The CJEU ruled that the employer's willingness to take the customer's wishes into account cannot be considered a 'genuine and determining occupational requirement' as it was not related to occupational activities and instead related to a characteristic of religion.
As with France and the United States, Germany supports the separation of church and state and adopts a policy of state neutrality.31 Germany's method of achieving state neutrality is largely shaped by its history and the dramatic change in its population since the mid 20th century. In 1950, more than 96 per cent of the population in the Federal Republic of Germany belonged to one of the major Christian confessions.32 However, since the 1960s, there has been a steady migration of Muslims from Turkey and various Arab countries into Germany. It is estimated that at least 6 per cent of Germany's population are Muslims.33 By 2050, it is estimated that approximately 8.7 per cent of the German population will be Muslim.34 Consequently, the importance of all non-Christian religions, and in particular Islam, is rapidly increasing.
Although xenophobia has existed in Germany for centuries, certain reports suggest that, since the turn of the 21st century, there has been a shift from general xenophobia to a more anti-Islamic attitude.35 This may be due in part to developments in work politics, debates on terrorism and security, and Islamism.36 Nonetheless, Germany neither strictly opposes state and religious communities nor entirely separates itself from them.37 Rather, Germany instructs authorities to assist and support the various denominations.38
The German Constitution grants religious groups considerable autonomy because all religious societies regulate and administer their affairs independently within the limits of the law.39 This autonomy allows each religious group to define what is legitimately classified as religion and religiously connoted behaviour, and places the government equally distant from all religious communities.40 However, the Constitution still allows the state to intervene and conduct a 'plausibility check' if it believes that a group is misusing this freedom.41
Germany's Constitution mandates that each of the 16 federal states remains neutral towards religion.42 Article 3 explains: 'No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of their gender, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions.'43 In addition, Article 4 lays out the individual right to religious freedom and obliges the state to respect the religious activities of its citizens and to secure their free development.44
Germany's constitutional mandate of neutrality only applies to public sector employers.45 Similarly, decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court are legally binding on public authorities.46 Thus, private sector employees are not absolutely protected by the federal German employment discrimination laws, although they may be protected when civil law judges interpret the general constitutional clauses under civil law.47
There is some private-sector recourse available under Section 75 of the Works Constitution Act.48 Under this Act, employers and works councils must ensure that all employees are treated in conformity with the principles of law and fairness, and, in particular, that no employee is discriminated against 'on grounds of race, ethnic origin, descent or other origin, nationality, religion or belief, disability, age, political or trade union activities or convictions, or on the grounds of gender or sexual identity'.49 The Works Constitution Act applies to all private sector companies in which a works council must be founded.50 The Act does not apply to discrimination in recruitment, but instead only to discriminatory treatment of current employees.51 It also does 'not apply to companies and establishments that directly and predominantly pursue political, coalition, religious, charitable, educational, scientific or artistic objectives'.52 With such broad exemptions, private sector employees often lack legal recourse beyond invoking the employer's general obligation to take care of its employees.53
In 2017, the German parliament approved a partial headscarf ban, which would prohibit civil servants, judges and soldiers from wearing full-face veils (including the burqa and niqab) while at work. Also in 2017, the upper house of the German parliament approved legislation that prohibits drivers from having their faces completely or even partially covered, which has been interpreted as a burqa ban.
iii Important cases
In 2016, a German court found that a Muslim law trainee had the right to wear a headscarf while working. In this case, Aqilah Sandhu began a traineeship with the Bavarian judicial system after completing her state law examinations, but was told in a letter that she was not allowed to interrogate witnesses or appear in courtrooms while wearing her headscarf. Ms Sandhu requested an explanation for the rule and was informed that religious clothing or symbols 'can impair the trust in religious neutrality of the administration of justice'. The German court agreed with Ms Sandhu that there was no legal basis for banning her from wearing religious dress at work.
In addition, two related cases reflect the current trend of religious discrimination in the German workplace. One of these concerned a teacher wearing a headscarf.54 The Federal Constitutional Court held that public school teachers could not be prohibited from wearing headscarves at work so long as the federal states in which they taught did not have laws specifically banning the display of religious symbols in public classrooms.55 The immediate consequence of the decision was that several German states immediately enacted laws forbidding teachers from wearing religious symbols in classrooms.56
However, in a later decision, the Federal Constitutional Court arrived at the opposite conclusion.57 In 2015, the Court held that prohibiting a teacher or social worker from wearing a headscarf in a public school violated Articles 3 and 4 of the German Constitution and unjustifiably interfered with an individual's freedom of religion. The Court reasoned that, despite the state's legitimate desires to achieve religious neutrality and to secure the educational rights of all its citizens, a ban on all headscarves was a disproportionate measure to achieve those goals. It explained that any general ban on visible religious symbols or clothing, such as headscarves, kippas, and nuns' or monks' habits violates the right to freedom of religion.58 Despite the Federal Constitutional Court's shift in ideology, however, some lower courts' rulings continue to support prohibiting headscarves in the workplace.
Unlike nearly all majority-Muslim states, Turkey has a strictly secular system of governance that controls all religious activity.59 This ideology can be traced back to a few key periods. First are the Tanzimât reforms that were enacted during the Ottoman Empire.60 During these reforms, the phrase 'religion of the state is Islam' was removed from the Turkish Constitution of 1924.61 Subsequently, in reforms implemented by Turkey's first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, during the Second Constitutional Era, the nation officially adopted a democratic and secular ideology known as Kemalism.62 Finally, nine years after its introduction, laïcité was explicitly established in Article 2 of the Turkish Constitution.
Although the Turkish notion of laïcité derived from France, in Turkey, laïcité does not call for a strict separation of religion and the state, but rather it describes the state's stance as one of 'active secularism'.63 For this reason, the Constitution contains a number of affirmative government duties to restrict religious expression. For example, Article 136 of the current Constitution establishes the Presidency of Religious Affairs,64 which is mandated '[t]o offer services according to the principles of citizenship without distinction of sect, understanding and practice regarding religion'.65 Additionally, the Presidency of Religious Affairs appoints and pays all prayer leaders (a'immah) and preachers (hatips).66
The current Turkish Constitution was adopted in 1982. Article 2 lays out the nation's secular ideology,67 and Article 10 protects citizens from discrimination on the basis of religion.68 These provisions of the Turkish Constitution provide similar protections of religious freedom to many Western constitutions. In addition, Turkey's secularism resembles that of France, insofar as it restricts religious expression in public. However, unlike both France and the United States, Turkey permits considerable affirmative government influence in religious activities.69
In addition to Turkey's secular constitutional provisions, in the public sphere, the By-law on the Garments of Public Personnel covers officials and workers employed in the public sector because the prevalent idea is that they must represent state neutrality, and as such, public officials and public sector workers must conform to specific dress codes.70 Thus, both men and women are prohibited from wearing religious garments or symbols in the workplace and are required to work bareheaded. Women who work in the public sphere generally cannot wear Islamic outfits, including hijabs, niqabs and burqas.71 In recent years, however, the headscarf ban in Turkey has largely been lifted in certain sectors and for certain people, including on university and high school campuses, in some state institutions and for female police and army officers.
Article 5 of Turkey's Labour Act of 2003 contains the most extensive provision prohibiting discrimination.72 This Article regulates the principle of equal treatment, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender, language, religion and sect, political opinion or philosophical belief, among others.73 However, the Labour Act does not impose a duty of non-discrimination on hiring in the private sphere.74 Similarly, there is no duty on employers to make reasonable accommodations for the religious needs of staff.75 While government oversight of private employer activities is slightly more relaxed, the government still employs a number of agencies to regulate religious activity in nearly any context. Thus, the Constitution's secularism pervades both the public and private sphere.
iii Important cases
One of the most important Turkish cases surrounding the headscarf debate occurred in 2005. Sahin v. Turkey76 was heard before the ECtHR but was largely influenced by the 1989 decisions of the Turkish Constitutional Court. The Sahin case involved a medical student who challenged the Turkish bans on wearing Islamic headscarves at universities and state institutions. The Court explained that Turkish headscarf bans in schools and public places do not breach the religious freedom of individuals, and held that fundamental freedoms are not violated when a secular country bans the wearing of religious clothing in institutions of higher education. Although the case involved an educational setting, and not an employment setting, it had important implications for headscarf bans in the workplace, as it bolstered general Turkish secularism.
The holding in Sahin is consistent with another ECtHR's holding, in Karaduman v. Turkey.77 In that case, a Turkish university student was denied a certificate of graduation because the school required a photograph of her without a headscarf, and she refused to be photographed without one. The Court found that the state was entitled to place restrictions on the wearing of a headscarf if it was incompatible with the goal of protecting the rights and freedoms of others, public policy and public safety. As such, the Court held that, under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the university did not violate the student's right to freedom of religion.78
These decisions evince why Turkish courts are likely to find that an employer's desire to have a politically neutral workplace outweighs employees' freedom in respect of dress and religious expression.79
VI SAUDI ARABIA
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a political monarchy currently ruled by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose father unified the country in the early 20th century. As the birthplace of Islam, Saudi Arabia is one of the most traditional Muslim societies in the world.80 Not only is Islam a central aspect of the nation's historical identity, but it is also the basis of the legal system, political system and social outlook.81
The governing legal system is known as shariah law (shariah), and it is deeply rooted in traditional Islamic law.82 Shariah is based on religious texts and works of Muslim jurists and Muslim states during the past 15 centuries.83 Adherents of shariah believe that law and religion overlap and that 'law in Islam is divine, sacred and comprehensive'.84 Consequently, national policies do not legally recognise or protect religious freedom.85
Shariah combines the Hanbali School of Law and the Wahhabi Doctrine.86 The Hanbali School is the official school of Islamic law for the courts of Saudi Arabia, under which judges have the discretion to make rulings according to understandings derived from shariah or other schools of Islam.87 Ultimately, Saudi judges are constrained 'solely by their own conscience in determining the will of God'.88 The Wahhabi Doctrine opposes innovation in religion and rejects interpretations of law and religion that are not based on sources of law drawn from traditional texts.89
In 1992, King Abd al-Aziz attempted to create a more modern legal system and enacted the Basic Law of Governance.90 However, it was drafted absent any public debate and there was no referendum to ratify it.91 Article 1 of this law explains that the Constitution of the Saudi Kingdom is 'the book of God and the Sunna (Traditions) of his Messenger'.92 Article 5 establishes that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy and that rule is limited to the sons of the founder, King Abd al-Aziz, and the sons of his sons.93 Article 44 describes some separation of powers, with the caveat that the King shall be the final authority over the three branches of government.94
The state prohibits public practice of any religion other than Islam.95 Women must wear a headscarf and a long cloak (abaya) that covers the entire body, head and face at all times.96 The law severely restricts all forms of public religious expression other than its own interpretation and enforcement of Islam.97 In public, women must always be accompanied by a male relative.98 In the workplace, men and women must be segregated.99 In addition, the Islamic police force patrols the streets to enforce gender segregation.100
In shariah courts, a woman's testimony is only worth half that of a man's testimony in capital punishment cases.101 This effectively means that the burden of proof is much higher for women than it is for men. In divorce and family law cases, women must generally deputise male relatives to speak on their behalf.102 In other types of cases, such as adultery and rape cases, women are required to solicit either four male witnesses or a direct confession by the perpetrator.103 Although women often ask male relatives to speak on their behalf, these burdensome evidentiary standards frequently discourage women from attempting to seek legal recourse at all.
Certain reports suggest that there have been some improvements for women in the workplace since 2005, when Saudi Arabia overhauled its labour laws and instituted special labour courts to adjudicate labour complaints.104 Moreover, as of June 2018, women are permitted to drive.105 Also in 2018, a woman was an anchor for the main evening news broadcast on the national television station for the first time. However, Saudi Arabia is still designated as a 'Country of Particular Concern' under the International Religious Freedom Act in view of its engagement in or tolerance of particularly severe violations of religious freedom.106
iii Important cases
Because women must wear a headscarf at all times, headscarf discrimination in Saudi Arabia does not exist. But even under shariah law, women in the workplace face a host of challenges. For example, because workplaces are completely segregated by gender, women can be subjected to harsh penalties for intentionally or accidentally mingling with men in the workplace, even if the mingling was the result of a man's actions.
In one instance, a woman was convicted of illegal mingling after her employer entered the women's section of the workplace.107 At trial, the judge did not address the woman's allegation that her employer raped her. Despite inconclusive evidence as to what transpired, the woman was sentenced to 70 lashes and deportation for failing to complain that her employer had entered the women's section.108 Similarly, Saudi Arabia criminalises contact between unmarried individuals of the opposite sex, which places rape victims at risk of prosecution for illegal mingling as well.109 In the high-profile Qatif case, a court convicted a victim of gang rape of illegal mingling and blamed her for going out alone.110
India gained independence from Britain in 1947 and enacted its Constitution in 1950. Pre-colonial Indian society was organised by the caste system, which segregated the population by inherited social status. In the 21st century, India has been making drastic efforts to overcome the bleak legacy of its caste system and to build a more egalitarian society.111 To advance this goal, it has enacted a large-scale affirmative action programme known as a 'reservation system' (also known as 'compensatory discrimination' or 'quota programme') that applies to the public sector, civil service, and state and private educational institutions.112
The reservation system is designed to promote minority populations and historically oppressed groups. Under the system, a proportion of jobs (which cannot exceed 50 per cent) are reserved for 'backward communities', 'scheduled castes' and 'scheduled tribes' as defined by the government.113 Individuals who belong to one of these disadvantaged minority groups may be able to enter public posts more easily and enjoy relaxed promotion requirements.114
India's Constitution is arguably the most comprehensive in the world. It contains almost 400 articles, numerous annexes and has been amended more than 100 times.115 The Preamble defines India as 'a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic'. India has ratified the International Labour Organization's 1958 Discrimination Convention and 'thus agreed to pursue a national policy designed to promote, by methods appropriate to national conditions and practice, equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, with a view to eliminating any discrimination'.116 There is also an Equal Opportunity Commission, which reviews grievances of deprived groups and correlates them to a diversity index to ensure equal opportunities in education, governance, private employment and housing, among others.117
Article 14 of the Constitution establishes equal protection.118 Article 15 contains the non-discrimination principle on the basis of religion, race, caste, gender and place of birth that specifically applies to 'access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment'.119 Article 16 establishes the principles of equality of opportunity and non-discrimination in public employment, but allows for reservations for backward classes.120 Article 38 urges the state to minimalise inequalities in income and status, and Article 46 promotes the educational and economic interests of weaker sections of society, in particular the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.121 Notably, the Indian private sector is not subject to the reservation system.122 Article 17 is the only provision that binds both the public and private sectors, and the Article outlaws untouchability and forbids its practice in any form.123 As such, only victims suffering a discriminatory act by a public body can seek constitutional legal remedies.124 During the past year, Indian religious minorities, including Muslims, have faced extensive discrimination, including violence.125 The rise in violence against non-Hindu Indians is attributed to the rise of Bhatatiya Janata Party, India's Hindu Nationalist Party.126 Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, rejected a US report that discussed the increased discrimination. Mr Kumar stated: 'India is proud of its secular credentials, and its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a long-standing commitment to tolerance and inclusion.'127
iii Important cases
In 1963, the Supreme Court of India, in Balaji v. State of Mysore, held that the sum of reservations generally could not exceed 50 per cent.128 In 1976, in State of Kerala v. Thomas, the reservation system was again contested.129 State of Kerala involved government jobs for which the government decided to exempt members of the backward castes from taking mandatory tests to gain promotions. The Supreme Court upheld these policies under the Indian Constitution. The case granted the government broad flexibility in designing and implementing affirmative action programmes and reflected India's persevering ideology that affirmative action is not only constitutional, but also necessary to uplift disadvantaged communities.
As India's reservation system does not apply to private sector jobs, private sector workers do not have anywhere near as much protection from religious discrimination as those members of the designated backward castes in the public sector. Recent stories illustrate that private sector employers have essentially no obligation to refrain from direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of religion.130 For example, a Muslim Mumbai resident and MBA graduate who applied for a job at a private diamond export firm was denied the job because the firm only hired non-Muslims.131 Under present Indian laws, the student has no legal recourse against the firm's discriminatory policies.132 This story highlights how India's lack of laws prohibiting private sector employers from direct religious discrimination is in sharp contrast with the United States and most of Europe.
Although employers around the globe must deal with religious discrimination in the workplace, employers' approaches in different nations vary greatly. This variance is largely a consequence of each nation's unique history, which profoundly influences the political philosophies and legal systems.
It makes sense that in the United States, a nation founded by many settlers who fled religious persecution, religious freedom laws are broad and strive to maintain a pluralist society. Similarly, when looking at India's past history with the caste system, one can understand the sensibility of a large-scale quota programme, designed to ensure that disadvantaged classes have the opportunity to gain additional employment opportunities. For similar reasons, Saudi Arabia's complete integration of religion and the state, while strikingly different from many Western nations, corresponds closely to its history as the birthplace of Islam.
Interestingly, France, Germany and Turkey all share similar ideologies with regard to the predominantly neutral role that the state should play in regulating religion, and yet each nation implements state neutrality differently. The French notion of laïcité mandates that the government refrains from taking any stance on religious ideas; the Turkish notion of laïcité allows for considerable government involvement; and the German notion of neutrality builds in safeguards so that the state and religious organisations can cooperate when necessary. While each nation's employment laws reflect its own history and societal views, the consequences of religious discrimination in the workplace often spread beyond the workplace. Thus, when addressing sensitive issues, such as how to accommodate headscarves in the workplace, modern businesses should be cognisant of both the nuanced cultures in which they operate and the potentially wider and long-term effects of their policies. In the global business environment, the challenge for companies will be to adequately accommodate their employees' core values, yet respect national sovereignty and cultural identities.