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A test of faith: time off for religious festival

The recent case of Gareddu v London Underground Limited confirmed that an employer is entitled to deny a request for annual leave to attend a religious festival where that request is not wholly genuine or made in good faith.

Mr Gareddu was a catholic employee who requested five weeks of annual leave to attend 17 religious festivals in the region of Sardinia where he was born. He contended that the festivals were a vital part of his faith and that he attended the same festivals each year with his family. Mr Gareddu’s request was granted for six successive years but when his line manager was changed he was told he could not take more than 15 consecutive days off work at a time and that he could not work remotely from Sardinia. Mr Gareddu claimed his employer had indirectly discriminated against him on religious grounds.

The EAT’s judgment was limited to the question of the legitimacy of the claimant’s request. A factual inquiry found that the number and identity of festivals that Mr Gareddu attended varied significantly each year and the five week period requested related to family arrangements rather than religious beliefs.

The EAT concluded that the real reason Mr Gareddu wanted a five week period of leave was Mr Gareddu’s wish to be with his family (and presumably the fact his family were located in the beautiful surroundings of Sardinia heightened his desire). However, it was not a requirement or manifestation of his religious belief that required his relocation to Sardinia for five weeks every summer. In a damming decision for the Claimant, his request was said to be analogous to a person requesting a weekend off work to attend church and spending the Saturday shopping with his family!

Comment

Participation in religious festivals are an integral part of some employees’ beliefs. It was not in dispute in this case that a series of festivals in Sardinia could have been a valid manifestation of Mr Gareddu’s Christianity. However this case provides a useful reminder that employers should not be afraid to apply the same basic checks to annual leave requests associated with religious festivals as any other request for leave. The question to ask is whether the request for leave is a genuine one. If it sounds too good be true, it just might be.

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Legal news, views, trends and tools for HR Professionals. Stay ahead. Go further