A “reasonable accommodations” approach to religion or belief discrimination cases has been proposed by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The proposal has been made in an attempt to influence the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the ongoing cases of Nadia Eweida & Shirley Chaplin against the United Kingdom and Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane against the United Kingdom. The EHRC has applied for leave to intervene in these cases and, if successful, will argue their proposals before the Court.
By way of illustration the EHRC gives the following example of reasonable accommodations. “For example, if a Jew asks not to have to work on a Saturday for religious reasons, his employer could accommodate this with minimum disruption simply by changing the rota. This would potentially be reasonable and would provide a good outcome for both employee and employer.” The EHRC have made clear that they have been influenced by what they perceive as the success of the concept of reasonable adjustments in disability discrimination and believe a similar approach would be successful in religion or belief cases.
That said, whilst the example given by EHRC sounds beautifully simple, such an accommodation (as employers will be well aware) is very often easier said than done as, continuing with the example of a work rota, there will very often be many competing interests (with religion or belief being just one of them) amongst employees to accommodate.
The European Court of Human Rights is in no way bound to consider the proposal but it is nevertheless an interesting one. If the proposal were to be accepted by the European Court, the implications for employers would be far-reaching.