Participation in religious festivals in Sardinia can be a genuine manifestation of religious belief, and so protected. However, in this case, the employee's assertions that he was required to do so were not genuine.
Mr Gareddu is a practising Catholic. He is entitled to 38 days' holiday each year. For four years, he was permitted to take five weeks' consecutive holiday in the summer, during which he returned to Sardinia, where some of his family still lived. However, in 2015, his request for five weeks' consecutive holiday was declined and he was told he could have a maximum of three weeks' holiday.
Mr Gareddu claimed that it was part of his religious belief that in or around August each year, he participates with his family in ancient religious festivals held in Sardinia. He challenged the refusal of his holiday request and brought a claim alleging that this was unlawful indirect discrimination on the basis that the policy of only allowing three weeks' consecutive leave prevented him from manifesting his religion by attending the religious festivals.
The employment tribunal dismissed his claim. It found that, for medical reasons, Mr Gareddu had not attended religious festivals during his August holidays since 2013. When he had attended in 2013, he had only attended 9 of the 17 religious festivals that he had previously stated were important for him to attend each year. The decision of which festivals to attend was entirely dependent on the views of Mr Gareddu's family and friends. Accordingly, the tribunal held that the asserted religious belief was not genuine and had not been made in good faith. The tribunal concluded that there was no religious requirement for him to take five weeks off every year to attend religious festivals.
The EAT dismissed Mr Gareddu's appeal. While attendance at festivals in Sardinia could be a genuine manifestation of religious belief, in this case, Mr Gareddu had not shown that attendance at the festivals had been the genuine reason for his extended holiday request.
What does this mean for employers?
This case should not change the way in which employers respond to requests to take time off for religious reasons. Attendance at religious festivals is certainly capable of being a manifestation of an employee's religious beliefs and refusal of a holiday request to attend a religious festival may therefore be indirect discrimination. Employers who turn down such requests should therefore make sure that they have good reasons for doing so, so that they can show that the refusal was justified, being a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.