Farah Alhajeh says she greets men and women in mixed company the same way — with a hand over her heart. A Swedish labor court ruled that she was not required to shake hands with a male boss. https://t.co/9MIg3r429l— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 16, 2018
Farah Alhajeh, 24, was interviewing for a job as an interpreter in Uppsala, Sweden, when she placed her hand over her heart to greet the male interviewer.
The company ended the interview because Alhajeh would not shake the man’s hand and said that her actions contradicted their policy, which requires that all staff treat men and women equally. The interview took place in 2016.
Alhajeh tried to abide by the company’s policy and said that when she is in mixed company, she greets men and woman in the same manner by bringing her hand to her chest.
“We live in a society where you have to treat women and men the same,” said Alhajeh. “I know that because I am Swedish.”
Alhajeh said that she smiled and explained that she was placing her hand over her heart instead of shaking hands because she was Muslim, to which the interviewer responded by escorting her to the elevator.
“It was like a punch in the face,” she said.
Heartwarming case of justice.— Salim Akhtar (@SalimAk86551691) August 16, 2018
Lesson for all to improve recruitment processes to avoid discriminatory practice, as a handshake should not be the reason to exclude a candidate. Perhaps appropriate gender balance on panels needs to be considered too.
I’m glad she won her case. She wasn’t being disrespectful at all - and no one should be expected to shake someone’s hand if they don’t wish to.— ??Arkady ???? (@Arkady2009) August 16, 2018
A Swedish labor court ruled 3-2 in Alhajeh’s favor, concluding 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.”
The labor court awarded Alhajeh 40,000 kronor, which is approximately $4,350, for the discrimination she suffered by the company.
Alhajeh told BBC News that she was happy about the ruling.
“In my country... you cannot treat women and men differently. I respect that. That's why I don't have any physical contact with men or with women. I can live by the rules of my religion and also at the same time follow the rules of the country that I live in,” she concluded.
The company could have avoided the court proceedings by simply listening to the young woman’s explanation, which was quite rational and an excellent compromise. Religious freedom of expression should not be used as a discriminatory tool to bar people from employment. Anyone who would be offended by a woman who places her hand over her heart as she smiles to greet you clearly has a problem, and it isn’t with the lack of a handshake.
Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Reuters