The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has recently upheld the decision of an Employment Tribunal to reject a claim from an employee who was refused five weeks leave to attend religious festivals in Sardinia.
In the case of Gareddu v London Underground Ltd, the EAT found that Mr Gareddu’s assertion that his religious beliefs required him to take five weeks leave to attend religious festivals was not genuine.
Mr Gareddu is a Roman Catholic, originally from Sardinia and his employer had, for several years, permitted him to take five consecutive weeks’ annual leave over summer to attend religious festivals in his home country and to visit family.
However, in 2015, his manager changed and when he put in his usual request for five weeks’ leave in summer, this was refused. He was informed by the new manager that the maximum he could take was three weeks’ annual leave.
Mr Gareddu raised a grievance stating the refusal to give him his annual leave was religious discrimination. His employer rejected this grievance on the basis that they were not convinced his religious beliefs obliged his attendance at these festivals and their view was that he chose to attend the festivals, and further, that the principal reason for his leave was to visit family. The employer did not believe that attendance at these festivals was a strict requirement of his faith.
Employment Tribunal Outcomes
Mr Gareddu instituted Employment Tribunal proceedings and the Tribunal upheld that Mr Gareddu’s application to have 5 weeks off was related to his family arrangements and not a manifestation of his religious beliefs. This was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal who noted that the Employment Tribunal’s determination was that in 2013, Mr Gareddu attended only nine of seventeen religious festivals which was inconsistent with his evidence in front of the Tribunal that “every one is dear to him”. The Employment Appeal Tribunal concluded that the real reason for Mr Gareddu wanting this five week break was to spend time with family and that was the ‘true and genuine’ reason, not his religious beliefs.
This was an interesting decision in light of recent decisions in this area which have found in favour of employees, for religions as varied as Pagans and Wiccans. Employers must, however, still tread carefully around employee’s religious beliefs as there are a number of religions which may well require specific attendance at certain events and/or festivals, such as Eid; or compliance with religious requirements to fast such as Ramadan, and employers should seek legal advice if these issues arise in the workplace.
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