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Striking the balance between work and religion

There have been many cases, both domestic and international, in which Courts and Tribunals have tried to strike a balance between the rights of employees to both practice in and demonstrate their religious beliefs and the needs of employers to limit this in the interests of their business. Whether wearing a veil, a crucifix or Sunday opening hours, such cases draw substantial public interest. The most recent of these cases has been upheld in the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

In Mba v London Borough of Merton the Claimant was employed as a children’s care worker and under her contract she was required to work on Sundays on a rotation shift pattern. To begin with her employer accommodated her desire not want to work on Sundays due to her Christian beliefs. However after two years the Claimant’s employer required her to work on Sundays and she refused to do so. The employer began disciplinary proceedings and, on receiving a final written warning the Claimant resigned claiming that the requirement to work on Sundays amounted to a ‘Provision, Criterion or Practice’ that discriminated against Christians.

The Employment Tribunal at first instance found that the employer’s aim of ensuring a gender and seniority mix of staff, making economic savings and ensuring the best care for the children involved was legitimate and that this was a ‘proportionate means of achieving the aim’ – a valid defence to the allegations.

On appeal the Claimant asserted that the Tribunal had impermissibly adjudicated on what was ‘core’ to a Christian’s belief when it stated that her desire to keep Sundays as a day for rest and worship was ‘not a core component of the Christian faith’. However the EAT did not agree with the Claimant and upheld the tribunal’s decision. They stated that the Tribunal’s decision had been based on how Christian’s generally would be affected and was not voicing opinions on what was important to the Christian faith.