A Virginia Muslim woman says she was fired from her job at a dental clinic for refusing to take off her hijab (head scarf), saying that her employer told her he wanted to keep the office “neutral” and that her garment might offend patients, The Independent is reporting.
Najaf Khan said she didn’t wear her hijab when she went for her job interview at Fair Oaks Dental Care Clinic, nor did she wear it on her first two days on the job. But on the third day, she decided to wear it – a decision she would come to regret.
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“I didn’t think it was going to be a big issue. I was completely aware he might ask me, but I didn’t know it would come down to the fact that if I wear it, I can’t work there.”
Khan says her firing was even more surprising considering that she had been getting positive performance reviews up until the point she was fired.
“I was astonished because he had been saying I was doing so well. I received an email the Friday morning saying how much positive enthusiasm I was bringing to the dental office.”
The hijab, or head scarf, is a traditional head covering worn by some Muslim women as a sign of modesty. In much the same way that some Jews keep Kosher while others do not, or some Catholics eschew meaton Fridays while others do not, not all Muslim women wear the hijab (or wear it all the time). Whether or not Islam requires Muslim women to wear the hijab at all times is a matter of debate in the Muslim community.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has taken up Ms. Khan’s case. In a statement, National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper called on Khan’s employer to give her her old job back.
“No employee should face termination because of his or her faith or religious practices. We call on Fair Oaks Dental Care to reinstate the Muslim employee and to offer her reasonable religious accommodation as mandated by law.”
At this point it bears noting that, as of this writing, Fair Oaks Dental Care Clinic has not responded to requests for comment, so we only have Khan’s side of the story. UPDATE: Fair Oaks Dental Care Clinic has responded, on the clinic’s Facebook page.
“We only asked Ms. Khan to wear a separate clean hijab (office worn only) or wear a sanitary head cover over her hijab while seeing patients in the office just like we require all employees to wear scrubs and not street clothes in the office when treating patients. Ms. Khan did not find this suitable and she then walked out on her own accord.”
So if Ms. Khan’s version of events is true, does she have a leg to stand on, legally? Maybe.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, federal law prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion (it is not clear how many employees work at Fair Oaks Dental Care Clinic).
“[The law] protects all aspects of religious observance, practice, and belief, and defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”
That means an employer must make “reasonable accommodation” when it comes to employees of different religious beliefs. Just what “reasonable accommodation” actually means, though, is handled largely on a case-by-case basis.
And Khan may have the Supreme Court on her side. In 2015, the Court sided with a different Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, who wasn’t hired at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a hijab.
Do you think Fair Oaks Dental Care Clinic was within its rights to fire Najaf Khan for not taking off her hijab when asked?
[Image via Shutterstock/Taraskin]