A Muslim woman in Sweden has been awarded financial compensation after she claimed she was discriminated against in a job interview for refusing to shake hands on religious grounds.
reports Farah Alhajeh was interviewing for a job as an interpreter at Semantix, a language services company in the city of Uppsala, north of Stockholm when the interviewer offered to introduce her to a male boss.
The 24-year-old job candidate said she placed her hand on her heart as a greeting and explained she avoided physical contact with men because she was Muslim. She was subsequently show to the lift.
'It was like a punch in the face,' Alhajeh told the publication a day after the ruling. 'It was the first time someone reacted, and it was a really harsh reaction.'
On Wednesday a Swedish labour court agreed the company had discriminated against Alhajeh and ordered it to pay approximately £3,900 in compensation.
In a statement, the labour court said Alhajeh 'adheres to an interpretation of Islam that prohibits handshaking with the opposite sex unless it is a close member of the family'.
The court added that 'the woman’s refusal to shake hands with people of the opposite sex is a religious manifestation that is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights'.
However, the company which interviewed the candidate argued that its staff were required to treat men and women equally, and that it could not allow a staff member to refuse handshakes based on gender.
Lars Backstrom, who represented the company in the case, wrote in an email to the NYT: 'When it comes to employees who meet clients and other external people, it’s up to the employers to decide whether employees can manifest their religious or political affiliations.'
While the court agreed the company was right to require that employees treat men and women equally, it could not require the aforementioned greeting involve shaking hands. Instead, they argued, the consistency in how men and women were greeted was more important.
'The court struck a balance between the interest of gender equality and religious freedom in the workplace,' said Martin Mork, who leads litigation at the ombudsman’s office.
Following the ruling Alhajeh said she was happy with the decision and that she greeted both sexes in the same way in mixed company. However, she might shake hands when only meeting women.
'We live in a society where you have to treat women and men the same,' she said. 'I know that because I am Swedish.
'I have to practice my religion in a Swedish way that’s acceptable,' she added.