A labor court in Sweden has sided with a Muslim woman whose job interview was cut short when she refused a handshake for religious reasons. The court, in a 3-2 vote, ordered the company to pay the woman 40,000 kronor – or $4,350 – on the grounds of discrimination against her, the BBC reports.
Farah Alhajeh was applying for a job with an interpreting company in Uppsala. During the interview, she would not shake her male interviewer’s hand. Instead, she placed her hand over her heart, later saying she was trying to avoid offending the interviewer.
The 24-year-old says her Muslim faith prohibits her from physical contact with members of the opposite sex, outside of her family.
The company argued that Alhejah’s refusal to shake hands could hamper her effectiveness as an interpreter. However, the court disagreed. According to The Local, Alhajeh was applying for a job doing video and phone interpretation, where she would not have to interact in-person with clients.
Company policy and anti-discrimination laws prohibit treating people differently because of sex, the employer said. It said it could not have staff members refusing a handshake because they are women. The company does allow staff members to decline handshakes due to germophobia and autism.
The Swedish labor court said the company could rightly demand equal treatment for men and women, but not by insisting upon a handshake. Doing so, it said, is discrimination against Muslims.
The court said that the European Convention on Human Rights protects the refusal to shake hands on religious grounds.
Sweden’s discrimination ombudsman’s office, which represented Alhajeh in the case, applauded the ruling, saying that it had balanced “the employer’s interests, the individual’s right to bodily integrity, and the importance of the state to maintain protection for religious freedom.”
“I believe in God, which is very rare in Sweden… and I should be able to do that and be accepted as long as I’m not hurting anyone,” Alhajah told the BBC.
Handshakes, a traditional greeting in some parts of Europe, have been the center of other controversies in recent years as well.
In both France and Switzerland, Muslim individuals who refused to shake hands with opposite-sex officials had their citizenship processes suspended or denied.
Photo credit: Victor Jiang/Shutterstock.