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Christians can be required to work Sundays if it is "proportionate" says Court of Appeal

10 December 2013 #Employment


The Court of Appeal has recently given its judgment on whether requiring a Christian to work Sundays amounted to indirect religious discrimination (Celestina Mba –v- Merton London Borough Council [2013] EWCA Civ 1562).  In this case, it was held that there was no discrimination.

The facts

Ms Mba was a practising Christian and she held a deep and sincere belief that Sunday is a day for worship and not for work.  She was employed as a care assistant at a children’s home run by the Council.  Her contract required her to work some weekends.  The Council initially arranged her rosters so that she did not have to work on Sundays.  When she was scheduled to work on a Sunday she refused, which resulted in disciplinary proceedings and a final written warning.  Following this, Ms Mba resigned alleging constructive unfair dismissal and indirect religious discrimination.

Ms Mba’s claims failed.  When considering the discrimination issue, the Employment Tribunal (and later the Employment Appeal Tribunal) held that:

  1. Her belief that Sunday was a day when no paid employment could be undertaken, whilst deeply held by her, “is not a core component of the Christian faith”
  2. The requirement that staff worked Sunday shifts as rostered was a proportionate means of achieving the Council’s legitimate aim of running the children’s home effectively.

Court of Appeal (CoA) decision

The CoA held that the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal had erred in its decision.  They had been wrong to place such weight on whether Ms Mba’s belief about not working on a Sunday was widely shared by other Christians.  The important point was whether it was a sincerely held belief, which on the facts in this case it was. The EAT appeared also to have forgotten that “keeping the Sabbath” is one of the ten commandments.

The CoA, however, still considered that Ms Mba’s claim of discrimination should fail.  This was because, on the crucial issue of whether the Council’s requirement that Ms Mba work on a Sunday was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, the CoA unanimously held that it was proportionate.

Comment

The children’s home needed to operate 24/7, including at weekends.  Ms Mba had also been contracted to work as rostered, including on Sundays.  It is therefore easy to see why, on the facts, it was proportionate for the Council to require Ms Mba to work on a Sunday, albeit that this was contrary to her sincerely held belief.

 

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at employmentunit@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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