An employer’s refusal of holiday to allow an employee to attend religious festivals was not indirect discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees against religious or belief discrimination, harassment and victimisation.

In the case of Gareddu v London Underground[1] the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld an Employment Tribunal decision to reject a claim of indirect religion or belief discrimination on the basis that the Claimant’s request for five consecutive weeks of annual leave to allow him to attend a number of religious festivals was not a genuine request.

Background

Mr Gareddu is a Sardinian Roman Catholic who worked for London Underground. He requested five consecutive weeks of annual leave in August each year to return to Sardinia and participate in religious festivals with his family members, many of whom were still located in Sardinia.

Mr Gareddu was allowed to take this leave for five years. After a change in management, he was advised in 2014 that, due to business needs, he would not be able to continue with this practice.

In November 2014, Mr Gareddu applied again for a five week period of annual leave around August 2015. This was refused by his employer on the grounds that it was contrary to business needs. Mr Gareddu was allowed three weeks of annual leave as a compromise.

Mr Gareddu subsequently brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal alleging that London Underground’s provision, criteria and practice only allowing a maximum of three consecutive weeks of annual leave indirectly discriminated against him on the basis that it prevented him from manifesting his religion by attending the religious festivals in Sardinia.

Findings

The Employment Tribunal found that the last time Mr Gareddu had attended the Sardinian religious festivals during the month of August was in 2013. The Tribunal also found that in 2013, Mr Gareddu had only attended nine of the seventeen religious festivals. He had previously claimed it was very important for him to attend due to the deep religious significance they held for him as a practising Roman Catholic.

The Tribunal found that the decision of which religious festivals to attend was entirely dependent on the views of Mr Gareddu’s family and friends and concluded that there was no religious requirement for Mr Gareddu to take five consecutive weeks off in August each year to attend particular religious festivals. The Tribunal held that the manifestation of a belief constituted by attendance at a series of different religious festivals for five weeks around August was not ‘intimately linked’ to the belief.

Mr Gareddu appealed to the EAT. The appeal was dismissed.

The EAT observed that the case was not about whether participating in festivals in Sardinia is a typical manifestation of the religious beliefs of Sardinian Catholics. The Tribunal’s finding was simply that Mr Gareddu’s particular description of his religious belief was not made in good faith. Therefore, the EAT was satisfied that the Tribunal was entitled to reach this finding on the evidence provided that Mr Gareddu did not attend exactly the same festivals each year.

The EAT also rejected Mr Gareddu’s argument that the Tribunal erred in weighing up his religious beliefs and reason for wanting the holiday against his non-religious family reasons. The EAT held that the mere fact that attendance at a single festival is a genuine manifestation of religious belief does not inevitably mean that attendance for a five week period at said festivals is also a genuine manifestation.

Commentary

Employers should be careful to examine the reasons behind a request for annual leave on the basis of a religious holiday and/or time for prayer. It could be indirect discrimination for an employer to expect an employee to take annual leave on the same days every year and/or reject a request for annual leave to celebrate religious holidays and prayers, unless this can be objectively justified.

Furthermore, refusing a request may amount to direct discrimination if a group of workers have been treated less favourably because of their religion or belief compared to workers of a different or non-religious background.

Employers should ensure that they have updated their annual leave policy to deal with circumstances such as this.

If you have any questions please contact:

Sejal Raja
Partner and Head of Employment
T. 020 7227 7410
E. sejal.raja@rlb-law.com

[1] Gareddu v London Underground Limited UKEAT/0086/16/DM


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.

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