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Religious Beliefs and Annual Leave

April 26, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Businesses will soon face a rush of last minute holiday requests from employees wanting to enjoy some nice weather, be with family, escape the general election or, as in the following case of Mr Gareddu, attend religious festivals.

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Mr Gareddu is a practising Roman Catholic of Sardinian origin. According to him, from 27 July to 2 September, Sardinians honour various Christian saints at some 38 different festivals.

Between 2009 and 2013, Mr Garredu would always take the five weeks from the end of July and early August as annual leave from his job with London Underground to go to Sardinia. He estimated that he would attend around 17 festivals of the saints with whom he felt a particular affinity.

In 2014, Mr Gareddu’s line manager changed. His new line manager informed him that he would only be allowed to take a maximum of three weeks' consecutive leave. By most standards this is generous - but it meant he could not spend as much time in Sardinia at the religious festivals as he had in previous years. He brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for discrimination.

Mr Gareddu claimed taking a five-week period of leave to attend religious festivals was a manifestation of his faith and that the policy of allowing no more than three weeks holiday to be taken at any one time was indirectly discriminatory on religious grounds - it prevented him from expressing his religious beliefs.

The Tribunal found attending religious festivals could amount to a manifestation of a religious belief and so attract protection under the Equality Act 2010. However, Mr Gareddu was not successful in his claim.

The Tribunal assessed whether he really needed five weeks off to manifest his beliefs and identified a number of inconsistencies in his evidence:

Mr Gareddu claimed he would attend 17 festivals, but in the most recent year he had only attended nine. As regards which festivals, they were not always the ones of the saints with whom he felt a particular affinity – rather, he went to those his family members were attending.

The Tribunal concluded Mr Gareddu’s assertion of requiring five weeks consecutive annual leave to manifest his beliefs was not genuine and dismissed his claims.

This case proves an important lesson. Claimant’s should be careful not to 'over-egg the pudding'. Mr Gareddu’s witness statement looked persuasive - but was not borne out by the facts. Instead of helping Mr Gareddu, the facts undermined his credibility.

Employers should have in place a holiday policy with maximum periods of consecutive leave, ensure it is communicated effectively across the business and applied consistently. While few employees would expect five weeks’ leave, some may expect to have the same two or three-weeks off each year. Be fair: a ‘first come, first served policy’ with suitable exceptions for significant life events (such as marriage) may be a practical solution.

About the Author

Philip McCabe Photo

Philip McCabe is an experienced employment lawyer who has been advising businesses and individuals on a wide range of employment and HR issues since 2000.

He is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Industrial Law Society, and Law Society. He regularly writes for national publications on employment law issues and is a regular columnist in the Derbyshire Times.

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