international employment law firm alliance L&E Global

Sweden: A female teacher who refused to shake hands with male co-workers could not prove discrimination

A female teacher who, due to religious beliefs, refrained from physical contact with men, refused to shake hands with male co-workers on her first day working as a substitute teacher at a new school. A male co-worker reported her behavior to the principal of the school. The principal had a meeting with the teacher to discuss equal treatment of men and women and the importance of the school setting equality standards. Following the meeting, the teacher left the workplace and did not return. The teacher claimed that the principal demanded her to engage in physical contact with the opposite gender by shaking hands with male co-workers, which was not allowed according to her religious beliefs and therefore constituted direct or indirect discrimination. The Swedish Labour Court found that the teacher could not prove that such a demand had been communicated by the principal, and consequently that there were no grounds for the teacher’s claim. Thus, the teacher’s claim was dismissed and the Court did not conclude whether or not such a requirement would have constituted discrimination.