In Gareddu v. London Underground Ltd UKEAT/0086/16, the EAT considered whether it was indirectly discriminatory, on the basis of religion or belief, for an employer to refuse an employee's holiday request which he said was for the purpose of attending religious festivals with his family in Sardinia.
Mr Gareddu challenged his employer's refusal to provide him with five weeks of leave as unlawful indirect discrimination on the grounds of his religion. He claimed that he needed the time off in order to participate with his family in ancient Sardinian religious festivals. London Underground had agreed that Mr Gareddu could take up to 15 consecutive days' annual leave (three weeks), but was not able to accommodate a longer request.
To succeed in a claim for indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, a claimant must show that the employer has applied to them an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice (PCP) that would apply equally to others, but which puts or would put those who share the claimant's religion or belief at a particular disadvantage as compared to a person who did not hold that religion or belief, and that this cannot be objectively justified.
Both the employment tribunal and the EAT held that London Underground's refusal to provide time off was not indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. On the facts, the tribunal and the EAT found that the true reason for Mr Gareddu wanting five weeks off was not his religious beliefs and that there was little consistency in the particular festivals that Mr Gareddu attended - rather, his attendance seemed to depend on which of his family members were available on a particular day. However, the EAT confirmed that in principle attendance at festivals in Sardinia could be a genuine manifestation of religion or belief.
What is the practical impact of this for employers?
This case emphasises that employers should take a fair and balanced approach when considering employees' requests for long periods off work for religious reasons. The employer should look at each employee's request on an individual basis and determine whether there is reason to believe that the employee's activities seem like a genuine manifestation of faith. In this case, the tribunal and the EAT found that the employee was using religious belief as an alibi for a preferred family arrangement. However, on other facts, an employee may have a genuine reason for taking sustained time off for religious purposes.