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We're All (Not) Going On A Summer Holiday!

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A recent tribunal case that was brought against the London Underground illustrates an important point of law relating to the employer’s right to reject holiday requests.

Mr Gareddu is a Roman Catholic who hails from Sardinia who had returned to his homeland in August every year to attend religious events with his family during his employment.  From 2009 to 2013 he was permitted to take five consecutive weeks annual leave during the Summer months.

Confident that when his new line manager was appointed he would not object to his five week jolly, Mr Gareddu again booked his five weeks of holidays.  However, his line manager then said that, whilst he would grant the holidays for this coming year, he would be unlikely to be granted more than fifteen continuous days of annual leave during the same period for any future holidays.  The line manager mentioned the fact that it was unfair upon the small team that he worked with to take holidays in this fashion and so, in an email that was sent to Mr Gareddu, he was advised in no uncertain terms that the company needed to be seen to be fair and equal with all the staff.  The company’s HR department backed the line manager’s decision and Mr Gareddu then raised a grievance.

When he then had his grievance rejected he attempted to claim religious discrimination over the employer’s rejection of his request for the five weeks of leave.  It was turned down. His appeal was also unsuccessful.  The employer stressed that:-

  • Requests for two weeks leave are perfectly ordinary and are only rejected if there are pressing reasons based upon business needs;
  • Three  weeks are not particularly rare but merit a discussion between the employee and the line manager as they have the potential to clash with other employee interests and leave;
  • Requests for more than three weeks leave are relatively rare and are normally requested only for major life events such as a marriage or a once in a lifetime holiday.

Mr Gareddu said that not granting more than fifteen days of annual leave disadvantaged someone with a clear belief system (i.e. him).  However, the need to attend a large number of religious festivals was purely a personal choice and did not amount to a protected characteristic.  Mr Gareddu then went to the Employment Tribunal to claim indirect religious discrimination.

They gave Mr Gareddu’s claim short shrift adopting a finding that there was an insufficient connection between the series of different festivals that he attended each year during that period.  The five week period was mainly related to family arrangements rather than any underlying religious beliefs.

So where does this leave employers?  Employees do not have an automatic right to time off for religious reasons.  Many employers may find that they receive a number of requests on the same day from employees for religious festivals.  However, employers can refuse where there is a legitimate business need that can be objectively justified.  It is always wise to try and indicate that any holidays should only be booked when employees have had their leave request granted and also set out how conflicting requests will be dealt with (e.g. on a first come first served basis). 

It is always wise to point to whichever policy sets this out.  If you need help creating employment policies or have any HR or employment law queries please get in touch with me.

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