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Muslim doctor loses religious discrimination claim after being challenged over ‘bare below the elbow’ policy

In the Dr F B v Airedale NHS Foundation Trust case, a dispute over Hand Hygiene Guidelines arose.

In the case of Dr F B v Airedale NHS Foundation Trust the tribunal heard Dr FB worked for an NHS Trust in Bradford but worked one day a week as a visiting Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Airedale General Hospital, in Eastburn, West Yorkshire.

The panel heard there were Hand Hygiene Guidelines in place which required staff to be ‘bare below the elbows to facilitate effective hand hygiene’.

However, it adds ‘whilst we expect all members of staff in clinical areas to be ‘bare below the elbows’ we also recognise the specific needs of our staff on cultural, religious or disability grounds’ and offers disposable sleeves as a result.

This also applied to uniform policy, but Dr FB said there was ‘no clear definition’ of where the non-clinical and clinical areas were.

The Leeds tribunal was told when a member of staff sees a colleague not complying with the policies, they are ‘expected’ to challenge them.

In December 2022 after leaving the operating theatre to go to the bathroom to make a phone call she had her sleeves ‘fully down’ by the time she got to the corridor.

In an altercation, director of nursing, MH, and two other bosses saw Dr FB.

MH believed her to have been in the anaesthetic room without her sleeves rolled up and to get her attention, she raised her voice slightly and said, ‘excuse me’.

She then asked her to roll her sleeves up.

This left Dr FB ‘upset’ at being challenged and this showed in her reaction in an altercation which ‘escalated very quickly’ and during which voices were raised on both sides.

In an email, she said she had been ‘racially profiled and bullied into rolling her sleeves up’.

Dr FB escalated her complaint and said the situation which had made her ‘feel targeted’ had not been handled ‘professionally or appropriately’.

A report found MH’s request for Dr FB to be bare below the elbows was ‘not racially motivated but rather a request made to ensure adherence to the policies’.

It was however recognised that the incident had been ‘stressful’ for her, and found it was ‘disappointing’ that the discussion had escalated so quickly.

‘Not everything that happens in the workplace to a Muslim worker will be related to religion, and [Dr FB]’s own evidence was that religion was not discussed on the day,’ she said.

However, she added: ‘The situation was not handled well by either party and as a result it escalated quickly.

‘It cannot however be said that the escalation was because of religion.

‘There are plenty of altercations that take place in the workplace because both parties become angry and upset, and we find that was the case here.’

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