Monday, 7 March 2016

Religious festivals are not a given right

Companies are perfectly within their rights to deny workers extended periods of annual leave which they claim are for ‘religious reasons’, a Shropshire employment lawyer has warned.

Lubna Laheria’s comments follow the findings of a landmark tribunal case involving a London Underground worker who claimed his religious beliefs required him to return to his home in Sardinia each year for up to five weeks.

Lubna, who is part of the employment team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said the case would serve as a useful guide for any employers faced with a member of staff asking for a long period of time off for specific reasons.

“The tribunal ruled that blocks of leave of up two weeks were perfectly ordinary and should only be declined by an employer in the event of a very pressing business need. It said that blocks of leave of three weeks were not particularly rare, but merited discussion between the worker and the line-manager because of the potential to create greater business difficulties and clashes with the wishes of other team members.

“And it pointed out that blocks of leave for three weeks or more would usually be granted only for rare events such as marriage, or supporting family members through planned medical procedures.”

She added: “The tribunal made it clear that there is a distinction between something which is a requirement of a person’s religion, and something which is tied into family arrangements.

“Employers have to ensure that they are treating all of their staff fairly. People with religious beliefs are not the only members of staff who will have family commitments during the summer months. One of the most important tasks of any manager is to ensure that they treat all their staff fairly, and do not show favouritism.

“Employers do not have to give workers time off for religious observance, but should try to accommodate them whenever possible, within reason. Clearly, the law has decided that it is not ‘reasonable’ to expect this to extend to a right to five weeks of extended leave each and every summer.”