Sweden: Man loses benefits after refusing to shake hands, agency sued

The Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination (DO) is suing the Swedish Employment agency for 160,000 kronor ($27,000) in damages to a Muslim man who lost his benefits after refusing to shake a woman's hand during an interview.

In May 2006 the 24-year-old man applied for a trainee position as a welder at a company in Älmhult in southern Sweden. During the interview, the man declined to shake hands with the woman interviewing him, citing religious reasons that do not allow him physical contact with women outside of his family.

He did explain this to the woman and instead put his hand on his chest, and bowed. However, not only did the gesture cost him the chance of securing the trainee position, he also had his unemployment benefits removed.

This is the first time the DO has sued the employment agency, Caroline Dieb, information chief for the DO, told The Local.

"By taking away the man's unemployment benefits the employment agency has not followed the law which deems that all should be treated equally, regardless of ethnic or religious persuasion," she said.

Apparently the company interviewing the man reported that they would not hire him due to "incompetence", but the employment agency instead chose to interpret his actions during the interview as the real cause and therefore withdrew his benefits.

According to Dieb this constitutes "indirect discrimination" and she believes they have a strong chance of winning the case at the District Court.

Speaking to the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, Katri Linna of the DO explained that the employment agency had completely misjudged the situation.

"If an official body cannot follow the law then how are we to motivate the individual to do so?" she said.

Source: The Local (English)

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