Employers may need to accommodate the need for employees with particular religious beliefs to observe their own holidays and festivals. A failure to do so without good reason might amount to indirect discrimination.
However, in the case of Gareddu v London Underground Ltd it was held that this obligation did not extend to allowing an employee to take a five-week holiday in Sardinia. He is a practising Roman Catholic and had in previous years returned to his home for the month of August where he would spend time with his family and attend a number of religious festivals. The tribunal found that his claim – that he had a religious belief in the need to attend those festivals, was not made in good faith. While there was no doubt that he did attend the festivals on his extended visits home, the purpose of his visit was actually to spend time with his family, not to comply with any religious obligation.
EAT rejected his argument that the tribunal should have found in his favour because his attendance at the festivals was a manifestation of his religious belief and was therefore protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. While there was no doubt of the employee’s religious faith and the fact that his attendance at various religious festivals was a genuine manifestation of his beliefs, the issue was whether those beliefs required him to take a five week break from work in order to attend those festivals. The EAT did criticise the tribunal for confining their approach to whether the asserted need to take the break was made in good faith. It would have been better had they analysed the case from the point of view of whether the employer’s refusal to allow such a break put people who shared the employee’s beliefs at a particular disadvantage – and whether the refusal was justified. On balance, the EAT was satisfied that there was no error of law. Once it was found that the main reason for requesting the holiday was not the employee’s religious beliefs, it followed that there was no ‘particular disadvantage’ caused to him which could be said to have flowed from those beliefs. His appeal was dismissed.
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