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Requirement to clean communal fridge: Indirect religious discrimination?

18 July 2011 #Employment

In Chatwal v Wandsworth Borough Council (2011), the EAT considered whether the requirement for staff to clean a communal fridge as a condition of its use amounted to indirect religious discrimination.

Mr Chatwal claimed that his beliefs as an Amritdhari Sikh forbid him from touching meat or meat products, preventing him from complying with this requirement.  The tribunal rejected his claim, on the basis that there are not a significant number of persons of the Sikh religion who share Mr Chatwal`s religious belief.  Mr Chatwal appealed to the EAT, which allowed his appeal.

According to the EAT, the tribunal decision was "peverse" as there was clear evidence that a number of other Sikh`s do share the same belief as Mr Chatwal.  The tribunal seemed to have based its decision on the Court of Appeal case of Eweida v British Airways (2010), involving a Christian employee`s claim that BA`s uniform policy was discriminatory as it prevented her wearing a cross.  In that case, the Court of Appeal suggested that a group of people must be disadvantaged by a provision, criterion of practice, to amount to discrimination.  Confusion surrounds how large the group put at a disadvantage must be.

The EAT indicated that this requirement of "group disadvantage" following Eweida is confusing, given that the legislation does not impose this requirement.  Arguably, evidence that there are some others who share the belief should be enough for indirect discrimination to occur.

This case has been remitted back to the tribunal for further consideration.
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