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Embracing Britain’s Multiculturalism

Gone are the days when almost everyone who walked our streets had the same colour skin, similar backgrounds and faiths, and the same ideology. In large cities and towns, the ethnicity ratio has rocketed in recent years. Just before Christmas, a report came out that said that just 45% of Londoners are White British, a figure that’s dropped from 58% in 2001.

Most of us have grown up with a more diverse population growing around us, and we’re used to working with people of different nationalities, religions and faiths. The majority of employees won’t overstep the boundaries when it comes to stretching rules and policies set by your organisation, but it can be hard to know how to deal with a situation that seems unreasonable, especially when it is founded by a religious faith.

In Mba v Merton Council (which we looked at after the ET stage in this blog last year),the employer was found not to have discrimination when it denied Miss Mba’s request not to work Sundays because of her strict Christian faith. Miss Mba had worked for Merton Council at Brightwell Respite Care House in Mordon for three years. She claimed that she had been forced out of her job in 2010 after she refused to work on Sundays.

Miss Mba alleged that council managers had originally agreed to accommodate her faith-based request, but had later pressured her to work on Sundays. When she protested against this, she was threatened with disciplinary proceedings, despite colleagues offering to take on the shifts for her.

The council argued that it had a duty to provide weekend care for children with disabilities, who should be supported by carers familiar with their specific needs. It did go to considerable lengths to accommodate her wish not to work on a Sunday. Although Miss Mba had suggested that she would work night shifts and Saturdays in order to avoid working on Sundays, ultimately the Council could find no reasonable alternative to a Sunday shift. The employment tribunal agreed with Merton Council, stating that although Sunday was traditionally a day of rest, it was not a core component of the Christian faith to have Sundays off work.

Miss Mba took her claim to the High Court but the earlier tribunal ruling was upheld. After losing her case, Miss Mba said “I am amazed by this decision. I thought this was a Christian country, known for its welcome and hospitality to all people…”

Under the Equality Act 2010, where an employer provides a provision, criterion or practice (i.e. requiring an employee to work on a religious day) this could amount to indirect discrimination, unless the employer can show that the requirement is objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Shop workers and betting workers have different rules under different legislation, and can refuse to work on a Sunday, irrespective of religion, under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

With the diversity of our workforces, it’s likely that at some point, a worker will request to take holiday in order to celebrate religious festivals or attend ceremonies. In all cases you should sympathetically consider such requests and allow them to take the time when it is reasonable and practical for the employee to be away from work. In this case, it was not reasonable and practical for the council to allow Miss Mba to have every Sunday off, when the organisation needed its workers to provide care for its disabled child residents.

These problems are all part of the wider reality of our diversely ethnic population, and as we get more and more multi-cultural it’s likely that the number of religious based issues arising will increase. If you need help sorting out a work problem, get in touch.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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