Refusing time off to pray

In the case of Cherfi v G4S Security Services Limited, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ("EAT") considered on what grounds an employer could justify a potentially discriminatory working provision.

 

The employee in this case was a Muslim, working as a security guard in Highgate.  The employee had previously been given permission to attend Friday prayers at a local Mosque.  However, when the employer took on a security contract with a new client which required all security guards to remain on site throughout their shifts, this permission was withdrawn.

 

There was a prayer room on site which could be used by the employee and the employee was given the option of working Saturdays or Sundays, instead of Fridays.

 

The employee claimed that the employer's refusal to allow him to leave the site for Friday prayers was unlawful discrimination on grounds of his religion.

 

The Tribunal rejected the employee's claim on the basis that, although the requirement to work on a Friday did place the employee at a disadvantage, granting the employee's request could result in significant financial penalties and potentially losing the contract if all of the shift staff were not on site at all times of the day.  The employee had been offered alternatives, but had refused these.  The Tribunal therefore considered that the employer had acted proportionately and in pursuance of a legitimate aim.

 

The EAT agreed with the Tribunal and its reasoning and dismissed the employee's appeal.

 

This case provides welcome guidance to employees on how to balance the interests of individual employees with a protected characteristic against the interests of the business and the other employees.

 

The employer in this case had considered various alternatives in order to accommodate the employee's request and the Tribunal noted that the employer had provided a prayer room, so the employee was not restricted from praying and had offered to change the employee's working hours.

 

These factors allowed the Tribunal to accept that the employer had acted reasonably in pursuance of what appeared to be a purely economic reason.  It is unclear whether the employer would have been successful if its argument had been solely based on the economic argument, if it could not show what other alternatives had been considered.