Religious festivals: no requirement to give employee five weeks off

An employment tribunal found that London Underground was entitled to turn down an employee’s request for five consecutive weeks’ annual leave in the summer to attend religious festivals. Stephen Simpson rounds up recent tribunal decisions.

No religious discrimination over rejection of request for five weeks off in summer
The employment tribunal decision in Gareddu v London Underground Ltd is a useful case for employers faced with an employee asking for a long period of time off for religious reasons.

Mr Gareddu is a Roman Catholic from Sardinia who goes back to his homeland in August every year to attend a series of religious events with his family.

His employer, London Underground, had previously allowed him to take five weeks’ annual leave during the summer.

After a change of management, he was told that he would not be able to continue with the arrangement from 2014. Unfairness to other staff in his small team was cited as the reason.

Mr Gareddu’s request in 2014 for the same leave was in fact granted, after it emerged that he had already arranged his holiday.

However, his line manager made it clear that 2014 would be the last time such a holiday request would be agreed.

Mr Gareddu’s line manager told him that, while he could take 15 days’ annual leave, he was “not the only member of staff who has family commitments during the summer holiday”.

Mr Gareddu raised a grievance, which was rejected. The employer stressed that:

  • requests for more than three weeks’ leave are relatively rare, and are normally requested only for major life events, such as marriage or a once-in-a-lifetime holiday; and
  • while the practice of not granting more than 15 days’ annual leave could disadvantage someone with a clear belief system, Mr Gareddu’s desire to attend a large number of religious festivals was a purely personal choice that did not amount to a protected characteristic.

The employment tribunal rejected Mr Gareddu’s subsequent religious discrimination claim, agreeing with the employer’s assessment that attendance at the festivals was not a requirement of his religion.

The employment tribunal held that his attendance in Sardinia for five weeks related more to his family arrangements, rather than any underlying religious beliefs.

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