Employers should not treat requests to adjust working conditions in order to accommodate an employee’s belief any less seriously simply because the belief is not widely shared. The Court of Appeal has confirmed that a particular religious belief (in this case the Christian belief that Sunday should be a day of rest) does not need to be a ‘core component’ of the relevant faith to receive protection under discrimination law.
In Eweida the ECHR ruled that, under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, protection from discrimination should be available where a practice disadvantages a single individual due to their belief, whether or not there are others similarly disadvantaged; in contrast UK law requires group disadvantage to establish an indirect discrimination claim. The Court of Appeal considered that it was not possible to read the UK statutory provisions in such a way as to ignore the need to establish group disadvantage, but the concept of justification could be read compatibly. It therefore ruled that a tribunal should not view an employee’s case on justification as any weaker simply because the beliefs are not more widely shared or do not constitute a ‘core’ belief of any particular religion.
Indeed, paradoxically, an employer able to show a legitimate business objective for its practice or policy may be able to argue that a widely held belief is harder to accommodate, in practical terms, in a way which is compatible with that objective: the greater the number of employees holding the belief, the more difficult it might be for an employer to accommodate it.
Nevertheless Mrs Mba lost her case because the Council had demonstrated on the facts that there was no other way the children’s home where she was working could be safely run, other than to require all staff to work on Sundays. (Mba v Merton Borough Council, CoA)