No automatic right to time off for religious holidays
The Employment Tribunal has recently considered the case of Gareddu v London Underground, in which an employee had claimed that it was discriminatory for his employer to refuse him 5 consecutive weeks’ annual leave during the summer for him to attend a series of religious festivals with his family in Italy.
In this case, the Tribunal decided that there was no mandatory requirement for the claimant to attend the series of festivals amounting to individual events, nor was there a close enough link between his religious beliefs as a roman catholic, and the need to attend the festivals over a consecutive 5 week period. The claimant himself conceded that his wish to attend could have been met by the holiday being taken in blocks over a similar period.
Although employees do not have an automatic right to time off for religious reason, employers should accommodate requests for annual leave to cover religious occasions where it is reasonable to do so.
In-keeping with the position taken by the Courts, employers should refuse a request only where it has a legitimate business need that can be objectively justified. Where it is not possible to grant an employee’s original request, the employer should discuss the options with the employee as it may be possible to come to a compromise. For example, the employee may agree to a reduced period, or to take unpaid time off.
Employers should be mindful of whether their policies, criteria or practices relating to holiday entitlement may be detrimental to staff requiring flexibility in order to engage in their religious practices as this might amount to indirect discrimination.