IT Worker Loses Dream Job Over...A Bacon Sandwich?

Manchester Evening News - Clive HuntWhen it comes to discussing religion or politics in the office, of course, tact is required. But just how tight-lipped should you be? Clive Hunt, a 58-year old IT consultant in Manchester, England, confronted this question head-on earlier this month when he offered to pick up "bacon sandwiches" during a meeting with a new client. That reportedly offended a Muslim co-worker -- and soon after, Hunt says that he was told that he lost his job. According to a report in the Manchester Evening News, Hunt says that a manager told him the decision was made because of his "racist remark."

Hunt says that he was in a meeting at a Manchester office of the Reed recruitment company to discuss an eight-month contract worth 32,000 pounds (or $50,000) to work with the British National Health Service, or NHS. And during the meeting, Hunt offered to pick up "bacon sandwiches," which as the Examiner points out, is "standard English breakfast fare." He didn't know that a colleague in the meeting, Sharika Sacranie, 29, was an observant Muslim, forbidden from eating pig products.

Hunt says that he didn't intend to offend anyone. "I'd never met [Sacranie] before," he told the Daily Mail, adding "we got on fine." But after the meeting, Hunt says that he received the call telling him that his services were no longer needed due to his "racist" remark -- an allegation that Hunt disputes. "There was no slur at her because I'd already met all the contractors on site before and one of them had actually told me they had really good bacon sandwiches."

Hunt added that Sacranie herself chose not to address the incident both when it happened and during a follow-up phone-call about the hiring process that took place before he was told that he was being let go. He said the job loss was a blow; he's been out of work for two months. Finally, Hunt claims to be bewildered that Reed had the power to terminate his employment. The "agency was just a middle man. How can it rescind an offer that was made to me by the NHS?" he asked the Daily Mail.

But according to John Spitzler, the president and principal recruiter for the Perimeter Consulting Group, an Atlanta-based executive search firm, it is common practice for search firms to rescind job offers. But in an interview with AOL Jobs, he said that the decision is usually the result of a criminal or other background check. "It's unusual for the choice to be made as a result of a cross-cultural insult, unintenteded or not," he said.

Both the NHS and Sacranie have turned down media requests for comment. The Reed staffing firm, however, did release a statement defending the decision and suggesting that Hunt made additional "inappropriate" comments during a phone call:

Due to inappropriate comments made to members of our staff during the recruitment process before Mr Hunt started his new role, we do not feel we can represent this candidate further. ... A senior manager from the Reed team spoke to Mr Hunt via telephone ... [d]uring that conversation, Mr Hunt made further inappropriate comments. At this point it became clear to the senior manager that Reed could no longer represent Mr Hunt.

Both side are in agreement about the charge that Hunt had a strong reaction to the news. In recounting to the Daily Mail the conversation he had with the Reed manager, he said that he "got so exasperated that [he] told him to 'sod off' and put the phone down.'"

Either way, Hunt's fall from grace is in keeping with a trend in Europe of workers running into problems for how they've handled religious matters in the office. Seven years ago, British Airways suspended clerk Nadia Eweida for refusing to take off her cross, saying that she wasn't in compliance with the airline's uniform code. Earlier this year, however, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ruled that the airline discriminated against her, and said Eweida had the right to wear a symbol of her faith.

This story was updated on Thursday, June 27, at 4:30 p.m. EDT with quotes from John Spitzler.

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