Social worker fired for wearing headscarf

By Time of article published Oct 28, 2005

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By Karen Breytenbach

The suspended correctional services social worker who refused to stop wearing a headscarf to work, despite warnings that she was violating a uniform code, has been dismissed.

Fairouz Adams had also declined to tuck in her shirt, saying as a Muslim she was required to dress modestly.

In terms of departmental regulations, she could have applied for an exemption to the uniform rules.

She had previously declined to state whether she would apply for such an exemption.

Adams said on Thursday night she would appeal against her dismissal.

She declined to answer questions or to comment pending the hearing.

She did confirm she had five days to lodge the appeal, and correctional services had 10 days thereafter to react.

Correctional services chief director of communications Manelisi Wolela said Adams could have applied for an exemption from the dress code, but instead chose to be "defiant".

"She was dismissed for gross insubordination, because she refused to adhere to our mandate.

"Insubordination can never be condoned, because it undermines service delivery... and our core mandate," said Wolela.

Adams has been employed by correction services for six years. She has worn a scarf throughout.

She was previously stationed at Ceres Prison and started working at Worcester Prison about two years ago.

At about the same time correction services made it compulsory for social workers to wear the uniform.

All its social workers have complied.

Adams was suspended with pay in April for having "violated the corporate identity of the department of correctional services" by wearing a head scarf and refusing to tuck in her shirt, according to correctional services spokesperson Eddy Johnson.

She was told she could return to work on condition she followed the department's dress code, which she refused to do, he said.

A disciplinary hearing followed in July, when she was again suspended after being found guilty of "gross insubordination".

Johnson said she was told then she could return to work only if she adhered to the department's dress code.

Adams was finally dismissed after her second disciplinary hearing ended unsuccesfully on Wednesday when she was found guilty of violating the dress code.

Muslim Judicial Council religious adviser Abduraghman Alexander, who has aided Adams since April, praised her for her "strong convictions".

He said the council took the matter very seriously.

"We believe this is a violation of her religious freedom and her democratic right to express herself as a Muslim woman.

"We support her appeal and are prepared to take this matter to the Labour Court and even the Constitutional Court."

Alexander said he believed the decision to dismiss her was based on religious bias and was "undemocratic".

"As Muslims we are very much a part of the rainbow nation.

"There is enough turmoil in this world - we must learn to be tolerant of one another," Alexander said.

Muslims account for about 1,5 percent of South Africa's estimated 45 million population and are the second largest religious grouping. Christians account for 80 percent.

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