Employment Law | Apology Over Muslim Employee Alcohol Refusal

Marks & Spencer has apologised after an “extremely apologetic” Muslim member of staff at one of its London stores refused to serve a customer who was trying to buy a bottle of champagne.

The unnamed customer spoke to the Telegraph after the incident, saying that they had been “taken aback” by the woman’s refusal to serve them because of her religion.

Drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam and some Muslims refuse to handle it but it is rare for such a thing to happen in large stores, as generally staff whose religious beliefs restrict the food or drink they can handle are put into departments more suitable for them.

However, according to an Islamic law consultant, the Muslim employee’s refusal to serve the customer was “ridiculous”. The consultant said that she did not believe the Islamic ruling is being so difficult that Muslims “cannot cope in society”, although she added that they could, in theory, object on religious grounds to serving customers buying any kind of meat or items containing small amounts of alcohol, such as cakes or chocolates.

M&S said it was company policy to respect workers’ religious beliefs, such as permitting Christians to not work on Sundays and recognises that some of its employees practise religions that restrict the food or drink they can handle, or that mean they cannot work at certain times.

According to their statement, M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.

However, other stores are split over the policy of allowing Muslim workers to refuse to sell pork or alcohol. Sainsbury’s does not have such a policy in place, while Tesco takes each case on its merits and Asda said it would not ask workers to be at the checkout if they objected to handling certain items, while the MD of John Lewis said that the case “is taking it one stage beyond common sense”.

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Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London

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