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Employment Case Law Update: Gareddu v London Underground Ltd

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When does taking leave become taking advantage? When it’s five weeks leave – and is clearly more family fun than festival.

In Gareddu v London Underground Ltd the EAT upheld a tribunal’s decision that a Roman Catholic was not discriminated against when his employer did not allow him to take five weeks leave to attend religious festivals in Sardinia.

For a number of years Mr Gareddu had been allowed, by London Underground, to take five consecutive week’s holiday to visit family and attend religious festivals. After a change of manager, his five weeks leave was granted in 2014 because it had been pre-arranged but was told this would be the last time. His request for leave in 2015 was refused and he was told he could only have a maximum of three weeks consecutive leave. This was because he worked in a small team and other staff members could not be granted holiday in the summer holiday period because they would have to cover Mr Gareddu. He raised a grievance saying the decision amounted to religious discrimination but this was rejected because under the employer’s normal policy, requests for more than three weeks' leave are normally requested only for major life events, such as marriage, once-in-a-lifetime holiday or major religious observances such as the Haj.

The main reason was that London Underground was unconvinced that that his religious belief meant he had to go to Sardinia for five weeks every summer  - although they accepted that not granting more than 15 days annual leave could disadvantage someone with a clear belief system.

London Underground considered the attendance at these festivals to be a personal choice rather than a strict requirement of his faith. The tribunal further believed that his motive was related to his family arrangements and not because of his religious beliefs.

The EAT upheld the first instance decision, holding that the tribunal was right to be sceptical of Mr Gareddu’s assertion that the festivals have a deep religious significance and that he attends them every year due to his faith. The tribunal looked at evidence from his attendance in 2013. Evidence suggested he attended 9 of 17 possible festivals which contradicted his testimony that “every one is dear to him”.

The EAT stated the tribunal had simply concluded that his true reason for requesting five weeks consecutive leave was to spend time with his family.

If an employee requests extended holiday for genuine religious beliefs it is likely to amount to discrimination if declined for a reason which cannot be objectively justified.  Employers should therefore treat such requests carefully and on a case by case basis. Employers should always be prepared to consider whether any of their policies disadvantage a particular group of their workforce on grounds of their religion (or other protected characteristics), and whether adjustments can be made to these policies to address this.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.