Observing a religious holiday resulted in court pay out

A claimant has walked away with more than £26,000 in compensation after being dismissed from his job due to taking a religious holiday.

The claimant, who was Jewish was dismissed for not showing up to work on Passover despite having booked time off to celebrate the holy day. As the claimant had recently taken time off work for illness, when he was told to self-isolate by the NHS, just weeks into the UK’s first Coronavirus lockdown, the employer asked him to forgo the holiday and attend work. The employer wrote to the Claimant, saying that the holiday could not be authorised, partly because the newly unfolding pandemic was putting unprecedented strain on the workplace. The claimant responded to explain that he needed time off for religious reasons, but a day later the firm responded that it had ‘no alternative’ but to end his employment.

The employment judge accepted that the business had a policy of cancelling leave following sickness absence, but that in doing so the claimant had suffered in comparison to non-Jewish colleagues. The judge stated, ‘The practice of cancelling holidays or facing dismissal  requires Jewish employees to choose whether to work when they are not permitted to work or be dismissed.” “That places Jewish employees whose faith requires they do not work on certain days, at a particular disadvantage when instructed to cancel annual leave.”

Whilst accepting that the start of the pandemic was a challenging time for businesses, the judge said employees were still obliged to “behave responsibly and with appropriate understanding towards employees”.

Religion and belief discrimination is illegal in the UK and is listed as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. It arises when someone is unfairly disadvantaged for reasons related to their religion or their beliefs.

However, employers are under no obligation to automatically give staff time off for religious holidays or festivals, time to pray or a place to pray. Employers should consider requests carefully and sympathetically, be reasonable and flexible where possible, and discuss the request and explore any concerns with the employee.

Refusing a request without a good business reason could amount to discrimination. An employee, in making a request, should be reasonable, flexible, and sympathetic too in considering the demands of their job and the needs of the organisation employing them.

121 HR Solutions can assist in the training of managers in areas of Equality in the Workplace simply contact us and we will be happy to discuss.

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