Manchester Employment Tribunal has ruled that a Jewish employee was religiously discriminated against, after they were dismissed for not attending work during Passover.
This case is a stark reminder of how indirect religious discrimination can occur within organisations, offering notable conclusions for employers.
Mr Bialick v NNE Law Ltd – A timeline of events
Mr Bialick, an Orthodox Jew who observes Jewish holidays, was employed by NNE Law Ltd.
Mr Bialick booked nine days of annual leave for April 2020, with the intention of observing Passover, during which work is not permitted on some days.
The company was not aware of the reason for Mr Bialick’s leave.
After falling ill with Covid-19, Mr Bialick was instructed by the NHS to self-isolate until 8 April. This overlapped with his booked annual leave, due to start on 7 April.
Mr Bialick received a letter on 8 April stating that his annual leave was cancelled. This was due to a company policy, under which employees cannot be away from the office for more than two weeks at a time.
In the letter, Mr Bialick was told that he was expected to attend work from 9 April, which he responded to by explaining the religious reason behind his planned annual leave.
On 9 April, Mr Bialick did not attend work and was dismissed by the company as a result.
What is indirect religious discrimination?
Indirect religious discrimination occurs when an employer applies a provision, criterion, or practice (PCP) to all workers, but this has a disproportionately adverse impact on members of a particular religion.
Additionally, the employer is unable to objectively justify the PCP, as it cannot prove it to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Evidence of a PCP causing disadvantage
In the case of Bialick v NNE Law, the tribunal ruled that the employer had applied a PCP to all staff.
This meant that employees could not take more than two weeks away from the office at once, applying to everyone regardless of their religious background.
It was clear that the PCP had been applied to Mr Bialick, with the tribunal stating that it places anyone of the Jewish faith at a disadvantage in comparison to employees from other backgrounds.
This was on the grounds that working is not permitted during Jewish holidays such as Passover, leaving employees with no choice but to take annual leave.
Should these employees fall ill before the holiday, as did Mr Bialick, they are left with the unfair dilemma of attending work and going against their religion, or observing the holiday and facing dismissal.
How was the decision reached?
The employer attempted to justify its actions by arguing that meeting client needs is a legitimate aim, with their ability to achieve this hindered by Mr Bialick’s absence.
However, the tribunal found insufficient evidence of client needs not being met, leading to the dismissal of their objective justification defence.
The tribunal added that the employer could have adopted less discriminatory measures to meet their legitimate aim, such as allowing work calendars to be viewed by colleagues.
Overall, Mr Bialick’s faith had a major impact upon his decision to not attend work, forcing him into non-compliance with his employer’s PCP, which later resulted in dismissal.
These reasons meant that Mr Bialick received £26,000 from the employment tribunal, with £18,000 attributed to ‘injury to feelings’.
AHR Consultants can help
As shown above, indirect discrimination is a realistic possibility for employers, leading to costly and time-consuming consequences if a claim is made.
If you would like to receive tailored guidance on avoiding discrimination at work, or any other area of employment law, call us today on 0345 076 2288 or complete the form below.