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Workers with burqas - what you need to know

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HC Online | 03 Oct 2014, 09:11 AM Agree 0
The complex issue of religious and cultural dress in the workplace cannot be solved by blanket rules or policies. So what should HR do?
  • Comment | 03 Oct 2014, 11:26 AM Agree 0
    What absolute rubbish.

    "You should resolve each issue individually"

    So one rule for one person and another rule for others?
  • Sarah | 03 Oct 2014, 11:45 AM Agree 0
    While Ms Gibbs makes a valid point in terms of cultural diversity (and I'm all for it), one big issue she doesn't touch on is our responsibility as employers to provide a safe work environment.

    Unfortunately, burqas present a security risk in that we may not know the identity of the person who walks into the office or whether they are carrying a concealed weapon or they are strapped with explosives underneath the garment. It would be so easy to impersonate an employee who usually wears a burqa, and in this way infiltrate the workplace if someone had it in their mind to commit a terrorist act. It's like allowing people in with balaclavas. And what about couriers with helmets? I believe a law was introduced that couriers are meant to take off their helmets when entering a building. Of course, this is not a diversity issue so it's acceptable to ask them to show their face--but this is still in the name of security.

    The issue of burqas, in my opinion, is not so much a diversity issue but a safety/security one. I don't think the government wants to change people's cultural beliefs, but the government does have a responsibility to keep its population safe, just as employers must keep a safe workplace.

    Unfortunately, due to terrorism, our society will need to make up its mind what is more important--compromising cultural diversity or keeping people safe.

    Perhaps, if workplaces introduced some form of security screening to ensure it's always the same person wearing the burqa in the workplace, then there should be no issue wearing a burqa. I believe at airports anyone wearing a burqa is taken into a separate room and the person is checked for ID purposes against their passport photo by a female officer.

    I would rather we adopt some measures like the above than have a whole bunch of employees injured or losing their lives as a result of a terrorist act.

    We live in a dangerous world unfortunately, and when 9/11 shook the world this was only the beginning to the problems we would have to face in the future, often compromising certain freedoms and cultural diversity.

    I'm sure if someone like Ms Gibbs lost a loved one in a terrorist act because the terrorist wore a burqa as camouflage she'd be singing a different tune.

    I hope nothing like this ever happens in our country. But with terrorism we're fighting an irrational state of mind. And if truth be told, this is a huge "bomb" waiting to explode (no pun intended), and if it does, then everyone will be complaining to the government and/or employers that we never kept a "safe working environment". So you can't have it both ways--something's got to give.
  • kevin | 03 Oct 2014, 11:46 AM Agree 0
    If an employee wishes to wear cultural clothing in the workplace, it’s important to liaise with that staff member on an individual basis, Gibbs said, being careful to ask how – and indeed, if – they would feel comfortable sharing their views.

    I wonder if at any time Gibbs has asked his other workers how they feel. When Tony Abbott and others have exclusive meetings with members of the Islamic community how should I feel. Is this a form of political harassment and discrimination?

    Interesting how this topic is playing out simply because one man had the courage to share his opinion. At least he had one not like our Mr Shorten who is quoted as saying "he does not have an opinion (what courage) but then again all he is interested in political oportunism.
    I feel very sad and violated when members of our police and miliary are asked not to wear their uniforms for fear of being targeted by other members of the community.

    One thing that would help substantially is if member of the muslim community stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the rest of Australia on issues such as terrorism. Perhaps then we would feel that we were one - perhaps even "team Australia".
  • Ella | 03 Oct 2014, 12:24 PM Agree 0
    I agree it is a 'sensitive' issue, but disagree we should just to conform to 'cultural clothing'. In a corporate environment, I would expect people dress corporate – if for religious reason, you choose to wear a scarf then so be it. However I would not feel comfortable sitting across the table from a woman wearing a burka, her face completely covered up. If that was the case, would you feel comfortable sitting across your boss, wearing a fishnet tight crop top and shorts? – They could be somewhat of a hippie and that is their ‘culture’. I think those who choose to dress a specific way and do not conform to the way the business requires them to dress should simply be in a job where they culturally fit.
  • Dave | 07 Oct 2014, 02:58 PM Agree 0
    The issue raised is challenging, accepting of social and cultural norms while undertaking normal work practices can be a difficult balancing act. Are the comments from other contributors racism dressed as security concerns?

    Should women be allowed to wear dresses or scarves in case they are 'packing'?

    Australia is an inclusive society and one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world. We need to get a sense of proportion on the serious balance of security and social norms.
    We need to erradicate fear, for safety's sake.
  • Megan | 08 Oct 2014, 03:12 PM Agree 0
    The covering of the face was understandable part of this culture as a protective measure in the desert. It is widely misinterpreted by those within and outside of said religion, the Quran does not require such an outfit to be worn.
  • Sarah | 10 Oct 2014, 10:36 AM Agree 0
    This does open a huge can of worms, but I really enjoyed reading Ella's comment about images of her boss. I would love to see my boss in Frankenfurter gear with the fishnet stockings. Woo hoo!

    But seriously, we also have to take security/safety measures according to the work environment in which we work. Ours is a very public environment, and since I've worked for this group we've had a number of armed hold ups with guns, and one with machetes--the offenders were wearing balaclavas so the CCTV footage was useless. We've also had some assaults, where our staff members ended up having to have surgery. As a result of some of these issues and other security concerns, we've had staff with PTSD, some developing chronic anxiety disorders and adjustment disorders. But no one seems to care about this because the whole focus seems to be on burqas.

    I think we should focus on the impact these things make on our staff members' psyche and health.

    In the front of house of our environment, we have uniforms--in the admin areas we dress in smart office gear, though we are flexible and allow for cultural diversity.

    I don't think focusing exclusively on the burqa is going to solve this issue. If anyone who thinks they are being singled out because they want to wear a burqa, they should be asked if they'd liked to be confronted with an assailant wearing headgear to cover their face and wielding a sharp machete. I'm sure their answer would be a resounding "No".

    I still see this (wearing a burqa or ANY kind of head gear that covers the face) as a security/safety issue rather than a cultural one.

    If you work in an admin area, it's easier to accommodate for cultural diversity, but not in the view of the public. Plus we also must accommodate the cultural diversity of our other employees, not just the Muslim employees. So where do we stop?

    And now, I sign off with images of a miniskirt and fishnets on my boss, thanks to Ella :)

    By the way, this brings on yet another situation I've had to deal with in the past (when there was much discrimination against transsexuals and transgender individuals). An employee turning up in male gear one day, and the next in female gear. He was a transvestite. I had to talk to him and tell him he should choose one or the other so the rest of the staff wouldn't get confused. We really didn't care if he wore a skirt as long as he stuck by it. At least we were being flexible ;)
  • Kate | 10 Oct 2014, 11:53 AM Agree 0
    Sarah - you forced an employee to select either male or female clothing to wear because you "were being flexible" - please please please contact the team at to discuss with them why this is so offensive and incorrect.
  • Renie | 10 Oct 2014, 12:06 PM Agree 0
    I understand that the wearing of the burqua is a personal choice issue, and not mandated for religious reasons. And certainly those that wish to wear one should not be discriminated against.

    But, in situations where faces are needed to be seen, professionally, legally or for security; then I agree that there are times when the burqua (or the motor cycle helmet, or the balaclava) should be removed.

    I don't think that this could/should be considered as discrimination.

    Maybe I am over simplifying the question.
  • Harry | 12 Oct 2014, 10:16 PM Agree 0
    In some cultures, dress code is required by law, ( GCC countries on modesty ). My take is we should respect the culture and laws of where we are at that time, this is a controversial stance, but hear me out for a minute. If we visit / work in some countries, there is guidelines on language / dress that are prescribed for prospective workers / visitors. These clearly set out expectations to people.
  • Megan | 13 Oct 2014, 08:47 AM Agree 0
    Totally agree Harry and Renie
  • Sarah | 13 Oct 2014, 09:13 AM Agree 0
    Kate, I didn't "force" the employee. The whole situation was rather sensitive and other employees' feelings about the whole thing had to be taken into consideration. The employee in question was asked to choose his/her best option. Coming in as a woman one day and as a man the other was difficult and confusing for all concerned, especially as to what to call him/her plus a host of other problems that came up. I only used this example to illustrate that at one time there was a lot of discrimination against transsexual or transvestites. Please don't oversimplify the situation. I don't have time to justify myself to you or anyone else. You don't need to agree with the info I shared, just don't make any judgements about what happened like 20 years ago (and you weren't even there). If there is one thing I cannot abide is a troll.
  • Kate | 13 Oct 2014, 09:29 AM Agree 0
    Sarah - not asking you to justify yourself nor trolling just simply asking you to please look into this further so you can be better educated on the situation as the language you have used is outdated an offensive to the LGBTI community.

    Also only considering the feelings of the "other employees" and not the individual in question is not an approach I would agree with. Again, not trolling because I not agree with your approach this is just my opinion. HR is there to support all employees, not just the majority who don't feel uncomfortable with someone who is different.

    Again, please contact the team at they will be best to assist you with the correct education on this.
  • Michelle | 16 Oct 2014, 01:13 PM Agree 0
    I lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for 10 years - some woman at work wore an abaya, hijab and niqab (face covered & eyes visible), others wore modest clothing (longer skirts, long sleeve shirts/tops) and the hijab only and a few wore stylish western clothing i.e. suits and no head cover at all. However, it is the expectation for Muslim women to wear cover in the community - although I regularly saw women not covering their faces (niqab).

    I took no issue whatsoever with the women at work or elsewhere who covered their faces and didn't feel afraid - most were just lovely people who happen to have a different culture, traditions and social expectations of them. You should see the fun they have and the gorgeous clothes they wear at the bride's wedding party (all women) - they're not the downtrodden woman many think they are - they're strong, well education and dignified.

    At airports in the middle east, all women including those who are covered, are checked by female security.

    Frankly, if I was working with a Muslim woman where I work who was covered, I couldn't care less. In any event, I very much doubt that women who preferred to totally covered will be working in mainstream organisations any time soon.
  • HR Guru | 31 Oct 2014, 11:04 AM Agree 0
    Dont agree with someone else these days = labelled a troll.
  • Linda Pettersson | 02 Nov 2014, 04:25 PM Agree 0
    I agree with you Michelle and would like to add that we can make this issue complicated by buying into the Abbott/Credlin angst about burqa=security issue which I believe was politically motivated. Or we can think for ourselves - if employees wear clothes that are appropriate and in keeping with the standards of their employment situation, are not offensive and they do their jobs, there is no issue.
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