In a recent case an employee, Mr Cherfi (C) brought a claim against his employer (G4S) for discrimination following their refusal to allow him to leave work to attend Friday prayers at a Mosque.
In general terms, the law provides that indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) is applied that puts or would put a person of a particular religion or belief at a particular disadvantage where that PCP cannot be objectively justified.
The facts of the case are as follows:
C, a Muslim, was employed by G4S as a security guard, working at a client’s site. He regularly left the site at lunchtimes to attend Mosque for prayers.
In October 2008, C was informed that he could no longer leave the site at lunchtimes as G4S was required to ensure that a specified number of security guards were present throughout operating hours.
As well as having a prayer room on site, G4S offered to change C’s days of work to accommodate him. C refused the various arrangements offered to him.
C then raised a claim against G4S claiming that in requiring employees to remain at work on Friday lunchtimes, Muslims were placed at a particular disadvantage. He argued that this constituted religious discrimination.
The Tribunal dismissed this claim on the basis that the company’s requirement for him to remain on site was a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’, namely meeting the operational needs of the business.
The Tribunal considered the risks to G4S of financial penalties, including the possibility of the company losing its contract with its client if a full complement of security staff was not on site throughout the day. The Tribunal also considered C’s refusal of the arrangements offered to accommodate him in reaching their decision.
C appealed this decision arguing that the Tribunal had failed to properly balance the discriminatory effect on him with the reasonable needs of his employer.
However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed his appeal, deciding that the Tribunal had carried out the necessary balancing act by considering both the reason behind the refusal to allow C to leave the site on Friday lunchtimes, and the impact of this on C.
In deciding this, the EAT concluded that G4S’ refusal to allow C to leave work to attend prayers at a mosque was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and was not, therefore, discriminatory.