In Mba v Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Merton, the EAT has considered whether a Christian care worker suffered indirect religious discrimination when she was required to work on Sundays.
Ms Mba, a devout Christian, was employed at a home for children with severe disabilities. Although her contract stated that she could be required to work on Sundays, she was initially allowed to take Sundays off because of her religious belief that Sundays should be a day of rest. Eventually, due to staffing problems, Merton asked Ms Mba to work occasional Sunday shifts. When she refused, she was given a final written warning, which led to her resignation. She then brought a claim alleging that requiring her to work on Sundays amounted to indirect religious discrimination.
The Employment Tribunal dismissed Ms Mba’s claim, finding that Merton’s requirement for all care workers to work on Sundays was objectively justified. Her appeal has now also been rejected by the EAT. Crucially, Merton was able to show that it had legitimate aims in enforcing Sunday working, including ensuring an appropriate seniority mix and gender balance on each shift, fair treatment of other staff, and continuity of care for the children. In addition, Merton was prepared to arrange Ms Mba’s shifts so that she could attend church. Requiring her to work on Sundays was therefore held to be a proportionate means of achieving Merton’s legitimate aims.
The EAT commented in its judgment that this case is not a ‘ringing endorsement of an individual’s right not to be required to work on a Sunday on the one hand, or an employer’s freedom to require it on the other’. Individual employers will need to objectively justify any similar requirement, and be able to demonstrate that it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim in the specific circumstances of their case.