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M&S apologises to customers refused sale due to religious beliefs of employee

10th February, 2014

M&S has been forced to apologise to its customers following substantial criticism on an employee’s refusal to sell alcohol and pork products due to religious beliefs.

In a Central London branch of M&S, a customer reportedly tried to buy a bottle of Champagne but was told by the checkout assistant that they would need to use another till and that, in apologising, she could not serve the customer.

Soon after the reporting, M&S were hounded with backlash via several Facebook pages, including one named “Boycott Marks and Spencer”, as well as TV and radio broadcasts commenting on the matter.

M&S state that they have a policy in place whereby an employee can be placed in a different department if their religious beliefs restrict food or drink they can handle. They admitted and apologised that in this case, they hadn’t acted in accordance with their own policies, leaving the Muslim employee in the food department to refuse sale to the customer.

M&S’ apology hasn’t washed with disgruntled customers, who have categorised the policy as “ridiculous” and “PC gone mad”. Further, leaders of Asda and John Lewis have confirmed that they have no such policy in place and that M&S’ approach was “one stage beyond common sense”. Although they did recognise that if a similar issue arose with one of their employees, they would deal with it on a case by case basis, they questioned whether members of staff should have the right to refuse to serve customers in any event.

Perhaps more worryingly, the case has raised the question of how far this issue really could go. Via the Facebook page, one customer questioned whether an atheist worker will refuse the sale of hot cross buns at Easter and said that M&S had created “division and hatred within our communities”. Further, theoretically, a Muslim worker could refuse the sale of any meat products or items such as desserts containing small amounts of alcohol, surely this is a step too far.

The key employment law issue raised here is the failure by M&S to have robust policies in place which they abide by. Further, it is possible that M&S didn’t provide training to employees in relation to the policy and as such the checkout assistant was left to handle products against her religious beliefs, when in fact the policy allowed her to work in a different department.

For a free review of your existing policies, or advice on implementing policies and providing training to employees, please contact Claire Brook on 01244 405575 or send and email to [email protected].

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