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Religious appearance or dress

Religious dress or appearance discrimination is treating people unfairly because they wear clothes or adornments that are required by or symbolic of their religion.

Burqa law would fuel fear, suspicion

I would like to put to bed some misleading comments implying that equal opportunity legislation is somehow putting the public at risk, by allowing people to cover their faces with certain apparel.

This past week, there have been calls for a new law allowing banks and government offices to require customers to show their faces or be refused entry, where there is a security issue.  I worry that this might simply fuel fear and suspicion against people who look different.


Can I insist that all men be clean shaven and cut their hair short?

A blanket requirement that all male staff be clean shaven may discriminate against some people. It is unlawful to prevent someone from having appearance or wearing religious dress in accordance with their religious beliefs in work or study. For example, some Sikh men do not shave in accordance with religious beliefs. Similarly, requiring men to keep their hair cut short may result in sex discrimination.

Can I specify that tattoos are not to be shown in the workplace?

Yes, you can in most cases. Tattoos are not specifically covered by equal opportunity laws. However, it is important to note that for some racial groups, tattoos may hold particular cultural significance (e.g., Maoris).

Can I request that earrings, piercings, rings and other jewellery be removed?

In general, you can. Any restrictions on the wearing of earrings and other jewellery should be applied equally to both men and women. However, allowances need to be made for people who wear adornments of religious significance - for example, bangles worn by Sikh men, or crucifixes worn by Christians.

Can I ask for a photo?

Yes, you can: but ask yourself if this is really a job where a person's appearance is relevant.  A photo can give information about a person's age, sex, race and sometimes disability.  Making decisions based upon any of these characteristics may leave you open to a complaint of discrimination.

Can I insist upon standards of appearance, such as hairstyle or earrings?

Generally yes, provided the standards are applied equally to men and women and are clearly linked to the requirements of the business. We also encourage you to be sensitive to particular cultural dress requirements. It is unlawful to prevent someone from having appearance or wearing religious dress in accordance with their religious beliefs in work or study.

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