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13 November 2018 | Comment |

Annual leave to attend religious festivals: an ‘egg-stra’ challenge for employers?

Easter 2017 is fast approaching and I’m sure that many of us will be tucking into delicious chocolate eggs over this coming weekend to celebrate the occasion. However, it isn’t all about eating endless amounts of chocolate as Easter is the most important Christian festival of the calendar year.

In the wake of such an important religious festival, employers should ensure that any discrimination on the grounds of religious or philosophical belief is eliminated. It is essential that employers understand how such religious festivals may occasionally affect the work place.

In particular, many employees may wish to take time off during holidays and religious festivals. Whilst employers are under no obligation to accept religious-based requests for time off, employers should seek to accommodate the request especially if the individual has sufficient holiday entitlement and no other staff members have requested leave on those dates. Further, employers should tread warily when refusing requests for time off during holidays and religious festivals as such refusals could be regarded as indirect discrimination unless the employer can show that the refusal is objectively justified.

In the recent case of Gareddu v London Underground[1], the EAT upheld a finding that an employer’s refusal to grant an employee five weeks’ holiday in one go to attend religious festivals in Sardinia was not indirect discrimination (for a more detailed overview of this case please see my colleague’s blog). However, this was due to the fact that the employee’s request for extended leave to manifest their belief was not genuine. Whilst the EAT’s judgment confirmed that it is reasonable for employers to question the sincerity of an employee’s request for extended leave for religious reasons, had the employee’s request been genuine, the employer’s refusal may well have been found to be indirect discrimination.

For further advice on how to handle employees’ requests for time off for religious festivals, holidays and/or time off to attend prayers please contact the Hugh James Employment Team.

That’s all from me ‘yolks’, have a cracking Easter!

[1] Gareddu v London Underground Ltd UKEAT/0086/16

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