Case Review: The Tesco Prayer Room and Indirect Discrimination

Two employees at a Tesco distribution depot in Northamptonshire have won a claim for indirect discrimination.

The two employees, both aged 27, had been restricted to use of prayer facilities at their place of work.  The two men were amongst a number of Muslim employees who had been asking Tesco since 2006 for a specific room in which they could pray at agreed times each day.

In 2008 any Muslim employee at a depot was allowed to use a security room for this purpose, but in 2012 a number of restrictions were put in place, including that managers must be informed when they were going to pray, and that they would have to ask for a key to use the room.

The Employment Tribunal in Bedford found in favour of the Claimants and agreed that Tesco had committed indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion.  The Claimants were awarded an undisclosed for injury to feelings.

The Tribunal went further and decided that Tesco had, whether intentional or not, unlawfully harassed the men with the implementation of prayer guidelines and the fact that the Claimants had been asked to sign the a copy of the guidelines.  One of the Claimants had been told that the guidelines would be enforced “whether he liked it or not”.

The Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council (NREC) which had assisted the Claimants, stated that the Tribunal’s decision was very important.

The NREC said that both Claimants had made it clear to Tesco that they were obligated to pray at set times during the day in a clean environment.  They further alleged that management at the depot had been aware of the difficulties faced by Muslim employees but had allocated them no specific place to do this.

Equality Officer for the NREC, Christopher Fray, said “a large number of Muslims complained that a number of these prayer guidelines were being used as a way of controlling and monitoring and harassing them.  The Bedford Employment Tribunal upheld the Claimants’ claims and found that they were discriminated against on the grounds of their religion.  This case is a victory not only for Muslims, but for all people who wish to pray at work.”