Factory worker unfairly dismissed for not removing religious necklace
A Christian factory worker was unfairly dismissed after he refused to remove his crucifix necklace at work, an employment appeal tribunal (EAT) has found.
The Employment Tribunal heard that the employee refused to take off a necklace as it had a religious importance. However, his employer argued that its policy prohibiting the necklace was one of health and safety, both in relation to the risk of contamination to the food products and also to avoid the employee becoming tangled in machinery.
The Employment Judge said the application of a “foreign body control policy” placed the employee at a disadvantage, as he would not be allowed to wear his necklace: “It was clear to us that the employee had lost a job as a result of the discrimination towards him.” As a Christian who follows the Russian Orthodox Church, he wore a silver crucifix on a neck-chain every day, close to the chest, to signify his commitment to his belief. However, the employer’s foreign body control policy, part of its food safety processes, did not permit employees to wear jewellery aside from a single, plain band ring. An exception could be made for religious jewellery but only following a risk assessment.
When the employee changed roles one month after his start date, working as a quality inspector, his line manager asked him to take off the necklace and the employee obliged.
The tribunal noted that the line manager believed the issue had been dealt with and so did not complete a risk assessment but this was not the employee’s understanding as he believed the necklace should be permitted as a religious piece of jewellery.
A risk assessment was eventually carried out. It was concluded that, because the chain consisted of links there was a risk of contamination. The manager completing the assessment also took into account the potential for entanglement, entrapment or tearing.
The tribunal heard that the member of the management team did not have a conversation with as to whether any steps could be taken to mitigate the risk, such as ensuring that it was tucked into clothing or that PPE could be fastened up to ensure that the chain was not exposed.
Later in the day, the employee was sent back to speak to his line manager and told him to remove the necklace but he refused. The employee was told that as he was refusing to obey a management instruction, his probationary period and thus his employment would be ended immediately. The employee then raised a grievance against his employer regarding the alleged bullying and being asked to remove his necklace. The company wrote to the employee to confirm he was dismissed for failing to follow a management request.
The employee made a claim of direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, but the claims were dismissed. He appealed to the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) and it sent back to the tribunal the question of indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or religious belief. The tribunal considered the case and ruled that the employee’s claim for indirect discrimination succeeded. It noted that the foreign body control policy could not be considered to be proportionate or necessary because the risk assessment had not been “appropriately fulfilled”.
The employee was awarded £22,074.68.