A Muslim employee at the Fox’s Biscuits factory in Batley was twice sent home because she refused to remove her hijab, 5Pillars has learned.
The temporary employee, who wants to remain anonymous, originally worked on the factory floor but was later moved to a cleaning job away from the machines. And it was during her cleaning duties that she was twice given the ultimatum – remove your hijab or leave.
Fox’s Biscuits have blamed the incidents on a “miscommunication” about the factory dress code, and have apologised “for any upset this may have caused her.” 5Pillars understands that they have also offered her a permanent position at the company.
The employee told 5Pillars: “I’d been working at this company for just over there months, I got the job through an agency. I went in and the agency didn’t say anything about not being able to wear a hijab so I had no idea about it.
“On my first day I went into the changing rooms and loads of Muslim women were coming at me and saying you need to take it off, they will tell you to take it off, you’re not allowed to wear it. And I said ‘no one has told me that’ so I’m just going to wear it.
“I told my husband about this and asked him to speak to the manager, who’s a practising Muslim, and he said it’s ok to wear it. But this was on night shifts on the weekends and they’re more relaxed on these shifts. But the general rule, according to the Muslim women working there, was that you had to take it off so sadly that’s what they did.
“But one day I came in a little bit early and came across one of the managers who was working on the day shift and he told me you have to take it off, you’re not allowed to wear it. He was giving me lots of reasons such as there is machinery inside and you could choke with a hijab, and that you can’t wear clothes that you’ve worn inside – to which I replied I have a different hijab that I can put on. So he was giving me lots of different reasons but there didn’t appear to be one rule. And eventually I was asked to leave.”
According to the employee, she continued to work night shifts wearing her hijab but was eventually reported to HR so her manager moved her to a cleaning job so that she was away from the machines.
She said: “So for six weeks now I’ve just been doing the Covid cleaning, wiping stuff down. But last Wednesday I was cleaning the canteen when a lady came up to me and told me that one of the other girls who wears a hijab went home because they told her she needed to take her hijab off or she would need to leave.
“And I was later told that I wasn’t allowed to work here anymore because of my hijab. To be be honest, I was hysterical about it, I wasn’t screaming but I was crying, I couldn’t believe it. And I just continued cleaning because it wasn’t the end of my shift yet but I was told that I had to leave, I wasn’t allowed to work in the factory which made me more upset. I explained that I was just doing cleaning, what’s the harm there is no health and safety issue? But I was told there had to be one rule for everybody.”
The employee then went back to the agency who she had got the job through and asked them if she could just clean in the canteen area and they said “yes.”
“So I just went in the next day and did that but after about an hour someone must have seen me and told the supervisor who said ‘I had a word with you yesterday and you need to leave.’
“It’s unbelievable because the amount of Muslims who work in there and the amount of women who go in with hijab. It’s coercion – you have to take it off or you can’t work. I said to one of the supervisors – you’ve told them to take it off but you haven’t provided them with an alternative in this whole time. You shouldn’t be putting them in that position in the first place. But they didn’t seem that bothered. I can’t believe that nobody has sorted it out.
“It made me feel really emotional and like a second class citizen, everyone else has got an advantage on me because they’re not wearing the hijab. It’s one of the worst things I have ever been through and I felt intimidated the whole time. I was just doing my job and there was consistent pressure on me. And it’s not just about me it’s about all the other women that this has happened to and will happen to.”
Fox’s Biscuits is a world-famous manufacturer founded in 1853 with its head office in Batley, West Yorkshire. In October 2020 the Italian manufacturer Ferrero bought it for £246 million.
The company policy states that hijabs are not allowed to be worn under mob caps (hair nets) as this could cause a food safety issue. However, the mob caps are see-through and do not cover the neck so do not comply with Islamic religious standards.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because
of religion or belief. It applies to all employers and service providers, whether they are public or private sector bodies.
When 5Pillars put the allegations to Fox’s Biscuits they replied: “Due to food safety standards, hair clips and pins are not currently allowed in our factory. Hair nets are provided for all of our colleagues and our Muslim colleagues who wear the hijab have informed us that they are happy to wear these hair nets to align with food safety rules.
“We continuously review all our policies and process and can share that we are investigating the use of disposable hoods that meet our factory standards and also the food safety standards. We had already placed an order for these items and have set up a working party to trial this solution with colleagues. We will actively engage with them through the trial to gather feedback and will host a technical review.
“We understand that on this occasion there may have been a miscommunication about our factory dress code with one of our temporary agency colleagues on site, owing to confusion around her allocated role that day. We are sincerely sorry for any upset this may have caused her. We will be in touch with the individual to discuss this mater directly with them.
“We are and continue to be fully committed to a workplace that is inclusive of all members of our community – which is why we have a strong and long-standing relationship with our local imams, working to support our onsite and local Muslim community.”
The employee told 5Pillars that she is satisfied with Fox’s Biscuits decision to allow her to wear the hijab in the canteen, but added that this probably would not have happened had she not spoken out.