Home > Workplace > Netherlands > 2011-06-10 - Equal Treatment Commission, n. 2011-88

2011-06-10 - Equal Treatment Commission, n. 2011-88

Workplace · The Netherlands · Dress code

Along skirt wore for religious purpose is compatible with the position of physician assistant

Key facts of the case - A woman has worked since 2006 as a physician assistant at the policlinic the Emma Children’s Hospital, part of the Amsterdam Academic Medical Center (AMC). The AMC offers physician assistants work wear in the form of white pants and jackets with an AMC logo. The work wear is cleaned on a daily basis by the AMC. Since 2011 the physician assistant would like to wear a long dress or skirt along with the jacket of the uniforms, due to her Muslim faith. She at least no longer wants to wear pants because that would conflict with her religious prescripts. The AMC will not add a skirt or dress to the work wear assortment. Nor would the AMC allow the physician assistant to wear her own long white skirt. According to the AMC, a long skirt or dress would be less hygienic than pants and therefore does not contribute to the prevention of hospital infections.
Furthermore, a long skirt or dress would affect the visibility and uniform appearance of the staff and extending the assortment of work wear would be logistics disproportionately burdensome.
The Commission sought advice from an expert of the Foundation on Infection Prevention. This foundation makes national guidelines on infection prevention in healthcare. The hospitals in the Netherlands use these guidelines as a basis for their own policies on infection prevention.

Main reasoning of the court - The AMC makes prohibited distinction on the basis of religion towards the physician assistant by not offering any (long) skirt or dress as part of the work wear, or at least the possibility of wearing a white dress or skirt that can be cleaned industrially by the AMC.
Wearing a long skirt or dress by a Muslim woman can be an expression of her faith. That the AMC adopts only trousers in the work wear particularly affects women that do not want to wear pants but only a dress or skirt because of their faith. Therewith the AMC makes indirect distinction on grounds of religion. Such is only allowed if there is a good reason for it: an objective justification. The Commission assesses the above mentioned reasons under the heading ’situation’ that the AMC has argued.
Regarding the argument that a long skirt would be less hygienic than trousers, the Commission agrees with the opinion of the expert. Following the expert opinion of the Foundation for Infection Prevention control and hygiene in relation to infection are no objections to wearing a long skirt in the role of physician assistant. Furthermore, the Commission finds that there is no evidence that a long white skirt with the jacket with the company logo would affect the visibility and the uniform appearance of the staff. As far as logistics is at issue, it is important that the AMC provides separate clothing to employees with devious sizes and pregnant employees. Providing a long skirt, or at least allowing a long skirt and its industrial washing, would not constitute an unacceptable burden for the AMC. The distinction is not objectively justified and therefore prohibited.