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'But it's my culture': Here's how to deal with these employees

by , 22 April 2016
We all understand that you may not discriminate against your employees 'unfairly'. And what constitutes unfair discrimination in the workplace includes areas such as culture and religious beliefs.

But haven't you ever felt that employees use these grounds to justify almost any behaviour that, however temporarily, manifests itself in the workplace?

In other words, you may feel like they're abusing the system, hiding behind a phrase such as: 'It's in my culture', or: 'It's my religious belief'.

Now, while I definitely believe, at least for the most part, that such employees are sincere when stating this, you'll get those who'll take their chances, thinking that they're immune.

But I'm here to say that you don't have to give in to this!

Here's how you can deal with such employees...

 
Where's the evidence?

It only makes sense to assume that, should a claim of a cultural belief be made, there should be some evidence of a cultural link.

For example, an employee might say that they are required, in their culture, to wear certain headbands.

If this statement can be proven via a genuine cultural link, of which the employee is actually a part of and involved in, then you can allow it.

In understanding this more, I can refer you to the case of Dlamini and Others v Green Floor Security (2006) 11 BLLR 1074

In this case, employees were dismissed for not shaving their beards, even though they had claimed that their religion did not permit it.

They then claimed it was an unfair dismissal.

However, it was found that it wasn't, because the employees couldn't prove that the mandatory wearing of beards was a central tenet of their faith, and that should they break such a rule, they'd be severely punished.

In other words, and to quote from the case itself: '[T]hey have to prove that trimming their beards is prohibited as a violation of an essential tenet of their faith. If they establish this they would prove that they were discriminated indirectly.'
 
What can you learn from this?

When an employee makes a claim that their appearance or behaviour is in line with their cultural or religious beliefs, they need to be able to prove that what they're claiming is a legitimate, and important, condition of their belief, and that violating it would be considered extremely serious.

If they can't, then you could possibly justify your discrimination.

*But always keep in mind that expert legal advice is always a good idea.

To learn more on dealing with discrimination in the workplace, page over to Chapter E 03 in your Practical Guide to Human Resources Management handbook, or click here to order your copy of this very useful resource today.

Stay empowered! Get yours today!

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