Marks & Spencer has told Muslim staff they can refuse to serve shoppers buying alcohol or pork, it has been revealed.
The chain has granted checkout workers in more than 700 stores permission to politely decline to serve customers for religious reasons.
Instead, shoppers are being asked to wait to pay for certain items at a different till.
The policy highlights a divide among the mainstream food retailers over whether religious staff should be excused from certain tasks.
In contrast to M&S, Sainsbury’s has told Muslim staff that there is no reason why they cannot handle goods such as alcohol and pork – even if they are not allowed to eat or drink the products.
A spokesman said the retailer’s official guidelines – which see everyone treated ‘fairly’ – were written following consultations with religious groups, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
However, Morrisons – which is based in Bradford, where there is a large Muslim population – said it had a long-standing commitment to ‘respecting and working around’ workers’ wishes not to handle certain products for religious or cultural reasons.
Decision: The chain said the policy of tolerance acknowledges the beliefs of other religious workers
Meanwhile, Asda bosses have chosen not to allow Muslims who object to handling alcohol to serve customers on checkouts.
And Tesco agreed it ‘would make no sense’ to employ staff on a till who refused to touch specific items – but said it treats each case individually, with no specific policy in place.
Last week, shoppers buying alcoholic drinks for Christmas at a M&S store in central London were asked by a Muslim checkout worker to wait to be served by another member of staff.
One customer – who wishes to remain unnamed – told the newspaper she was ‘taken aback’ by the worker’s request.
‘I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady – who was wearing a headscarf – was very apologetic but said she could not serve me,’ said the customer.
‘She told me to wait until another member of staff was available.’
A M&S spokesman said the policy of tolerance acknowledges the beliefs of other religious workers, including Christians and Jews.
He added that the major retailer strives to promote ‘an environment free from discrimination’.
In October this year, two Muslim workers won a discrimination case against Tesco after their bosses kept their prayer room locked.
Abdirisak Aden and Mahamed Hasan, both aged 27, were among a number of devout Muslim employees at the supermarket who had lobbied for a prayer room since 2006.
In 2008, managers agreed to set aside a security office at the distribution depot in Crick, Northamptonshire, as a prayer room for Muslims.
But four years later, bosses set new restrictions on the use of the room which included keeping it locked when it was not in use.
Following an employment tribunal, Tesco was guilty of indirect discrimination – with the men awarded an undisclosed sum for ‘injury to their feelings’.
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