British supermarket will allow clerks to refuse service to customers buying pork and alcohol
Should Muslim clerks be allowed to refuse service to people buying pork or alchohol? One large supermarket chain in Great Britain says yes.
Muslim staff working for Marks & Spencer have been given permission to refuse to serve customers buying alcohol or pork products
Its policy decision has highlighted a split among the big food retailers over whether religious staff should be excused certain jobs.
In contrast to M&S, Sainsbury's said it had issued official guidelines that stated there was no reason why staff who did not drink alcohol or eat pork for religious reasons could not handle the goods.
The advice followed consultations with religious groups, said a spokesman.
Tesco said it treated each case on its merits, but said it "made no sense" to employ staff on a till who refused to touch certain items for religious reasons.
Asda said it would not deploy Muslims on tills who objected to handling alcohol, while Morrisons, which is based in Bradford where there is a large Muslim community, said it had widespread experience of dealing with the issue and would "respect and work around anyone's wishes not to handle specific products for religious or cultural reasons".
At M&S, Muslim staff who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork have been told they can politely request that customers choose another till at which to pay.
At one of its stores in central London last week, customers waiting with goods that included pork or alcohol were told by a Muslim checkout worker to wait until another till became available. The assistant was extremely apologetic at having to ask customers to wait.
One customer, who declined to be named, said: "I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available.
"I was taken aback. I was a bit surprised. I've never come across that before."
Customers trying to buy alcoholic drinks for Christmas were also asked to wait.
An M&S spokesman said: "We recognise that some of our employees practise religions that restrict the food or drink they can handle, or that mean they cannot work at certain times.
"M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service."
I am all for reasonable accommodation of religious practices in the workplace. Jews who don't want to work on Saturday or Chirstians on Sunday can and should be granted special treatment. Muslims should be given times to pray (if it's not too disruptive of company operations) as well as being granted time off for religious holidays - just as Catholics have been given for 150 years in America.
But M&S appears to have surrendered to the notion that the religious sensibilities of their employees tops the needs of its customers. If they want to put devout Muslims on a cash register, they should also put up a sign saying "This clerk does not ring up pork or alcohol products." Can you imagine standing in line for 10 minutes and then being told you have to go to another register to be served?
Of course, stores won't do that - it's "discriminatory." Tesco, another British food chain, appears to have the right idea; if Muslims won't ring up pork or alchohol, they can't work a register.
And if Muslims won't ring up certain products, why go to work in a store where it's part of the job description? Should a devout, pro-life Christian go to work at Planned Parenthood and then request having nothing to do with abortions? Supermarkets sell food and drink. It's no secret they sell pork and alchohol. Why go to work at a business where you know you will have to violate your fundamental beliefs?
Employees need to accommodate their beliefs to their employer and if they won't, they shouldn't have applied for the job in the first place. "Accommodation" should be a two way street. Too often with devout Muslims, this isn't the case.