Sunday working and religious discrimination

The EAT has held in the case of Mba –v- Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Merton that Mrs Mba, a Christian, was not indirectly discriminated against by her employer’s requirements that all care workers were required to work some Sunday shifts.

Mrs Mba was employed by the London Borough of Merton as a residential care officer at a children’s home which provided short breaks for children with serious disabilities and complex care needs and was open seven days a week. There was a rota system in place which provided that staff were required to work some Sundays. For a period of two years, Merton allowed Mrs Mba to work on Saturdays instead of Sundays as she stated that as a Christian, Sundays should be periods of rest. Merton had not promised that this would be a permanent arrangement and when they asked Mrs Mba to work on occasional Sundays in line with her contract of employment, she refused and after being issued with a final written warning, Mrs Mba resigned and brought a claim against Merton for indirect religious discrimination.

The Tribunal rejected Mrs Mba’s claim finding that Merton’s requirement for all care workers to work on Sundays was objectively justified for Merton. It was accepted by the Tribunal that this requirement was legitimate to ensure that there was an appropriate gender balance and seniority mix on each shift, to provide continuity of care for the children at the home, a cost-effective service and the fair treatment of other staff who had to cover Mrs Mba’s Sunday shifts. The Tribunal therefore held that this requirement was a proportionate means of achieving Merton’s legitimate aims. In making this decision it considered that Merton had made efforts to accommodate Mrs Mba for two years, and they were still prepared to arrange Sunday shifts in a way which allowed Mrs Mba to attend church. Additionally it was held that whilst Mrs Mba’s belief regarding Sunday working was deeply held, it was not a core component of the Christian faith and some Christian’s do work on Sundays.
Mrs Mba appealed to the EAT and the Tribunal’s decision was upheld. The EAT stated that the Tribunal had struck a balance between Merton’s needs and the discriminatory impact of the Sunday-working requirement on Mrs Mba. The EAT considered that the comments made by the Tribunal in relation to the core components of the Christian faith were in relation to the degree in which Christians generally would be affected, not on what was important to the Christian faith.

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