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Jewish job applicant wins indirect discrimination claim after refusing to work Saturdays

Posted by TonyBrownEmploymentSolicitor on July 15, 2015

An employment tribunal has ordered an employer to pay £17,000 to a Jewish applicant who was subjected to indirect discrimination when she was turned down for a job because she would not work on Saturdays which her religion prohibited.

In that case, the Claimant applied for a job in a call centre. At her interview, she explained that she observed Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest) and therefore she would not be able to work on Saturdays but offered to work on all other days. She received a letter from the company informing her that “After careful consideration we cannot offer you a position at this time. We are still looking for people who are flexible enough to work Saturdays.”

The Claimant issued a claim in the employment tribunal alleging that the employer’s Saturday working requirement indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of her religious belief.

The ET upheld her claim. The employer’s requirement for employees to work on Saturdays was indirect discrimination because of the Claimant’s religious belief and was not justified. The ET accepted that the needs of the business to provide a service to its customers 7 days a week was a legitimate aim but the employer’s policy that job applicants should commit to working on Saturdays was not a proportionate means of achieving that aim. In particular, the employer did not give sufficient consideration to the Claimant’s situation and how she could be accommodated within the organisation. The employer operated a shift system, incorporating two days off a week and may have been able to accommodate the Claimant’s objection to working on Saturdays if it had canvassed the opinion of other employees to find out if they would be prepared to swap days with her or reconsider its rostering system.

The tribunal ordered the employer to pay the Claimant £17000 compensation and recommended that the employer should review its policies to comply with the Equality Act and should send senior managers on equality training.

Comment
Clearly, a Saturday working requirement puts those sharing the Claimant’s religious belief at a particular disadvantage, thus engaging the indirect discrimination provisions. Therefore, the outcome of cases like this one depends solely on whether an employer can justify its requirement in the particular circumstances. To establish justification, an employer will need to show that there is a legitimate aim (a real business need) and that the criterion, policy or other rule or procedure used is a proportionate means of achieving that aim (that is, it is reasonably necessary in order to achieve that aim, and there are no less discriminatory means available). This involves the tribunal performing a balancing act between the needs of the employer and the discriminatory effect of the workplace practice on the Claimant.

If you would like advice about how the issues in this note apply to your situation, please contactTony Brown on 01225 740097 or by e mail to tony@bathemploymentlaw.co.uk

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