UK Employment Law Test Case for Christian Employees

In a case, which was heralded by some to be a UK employment law test case, a Christian employee has lost the case which she had taken to the Court of Appeal over her right to observe the sabbath and take Sunday as a day of rest.

Celestina Mba, who worked for Merton council at the Brightwell Children’s Centre in south-west London is taking her case to the Court of Appeal because she claims that she was not permitted to take Sunday’s off in accordance with her religious beliefs.  Ms Mba who lost her original case in February 2012, claimed she had no choice to resign when her employer refused to allow her to observe the sabbath despite the fact that she had offered to work other unsociable hours, take lower pay and had even secured the agreement of colleagues to cover her Sunday shifts.

This case was seen by many as a test of UK employment law because a successful outcome for Ms Mba could have created a duty on employers to make accommodations for their employees who wish to observe religious practices.  The argument so far had centred around the fact that not all Christians are unhappy to work on Sundays.  In effect, that means that not working on a Sunday may not be a key characteristic of the Christian faith.  The court decided that observing the sabbath was not a core characteristic and as such Ms Mba had no grounds for a claim for discrimination.

This UK employment law test case could have had a widespread impact  and created new rights for other faiths.  For example, Jewish employees might have been entitled to time off from dusk on Friday to dusk on Saturday or Muslim employees the right to take Fridays off.  Some Christian organisation have pointed out that the courts have decided in favour of the right to observe religious practices in other faiths such as the wearing of the Sikh kara bracelet and the Muslim hijab.

Interestingly, UK employment law does exist to protect shop workers who do not wish to work on Sundays.  The Sunday Trading laws mean that a shop worker refusing to work on Sunday (unless Sunday is the only day they work) must not be dismissed, selected for redundancy or be treated less favourably (eg. be denied promotion) as a result of their refusal to work on Sundays.  Dismissing a shop worker who exercises their right not to work on a Sunday would be considered automatically unfair under UK Employment Law.

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