An amendment to an employment law in the United Kingdom will enable Sikhs to wear turbans at work, the BBC reports. The 1989 Employment Act specifically stated that Sikhs at construction sites would not be required to replace their turbans with safety helmets. But it contained a loophole by limiting the exemption to those high-risk worksites. The Sikh Council told the BBC that limited legal protection led to disciplinary action and dismissal for some Sikhs who refused to replace their turbans with helmets. The new amendment will expand the exemption to most workplaces.
Sikhs around the world have fought for the rights of French students, Canadian mounties and motorcyclists, and Texas sheriffs to wear religiously required turbans without facing discrimination, with varying degrees of success. In some cases, safety is pitted against religious freedom. In 2014, Ontario’s premier said the rules of the road—which require motorcyclists to wear helmets—were more important than religious freedom. The problem, Sikhs said, was that helmets would not fit on top of their turbans.
Smart design could help offer compromise in similar situations. The new UK amendment will still require specific workers, such as those in emergency response and armed service positions, to wear helmets. In 2010, the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers stated that Sikh police officers would only be allowed on firearms teams if they removed their turbans to wear a helmet. The association suggested that Sikh officers wear smaller head coverings, called patkas, that would not impede their helmets. Scientists have reportedly begun research on a ballistic, bulletproof turban, but it has yet to hit the market.